Appreciative inquiry in the face of wanton destruction, death and hopelessness…

In the aftermath of the riots, there have been numerous inquiries about why the authorities did not meet force with force? Why wasn’t justice in the form of water canons and rubber bullets dished out? Why can’t we respond to civil unrest in the way that the Americans or our Continental cousins do – decisively and with a show of strength? Why didn’t we call in the army? Where were the parents of rioting youths? In the days to come, there will be no doubt be yet more questions about the underlying causes of this malaise.

As I watched the events unfold, I found myself just asking… why?

In this connection, I applaud the Archbishop of Canterbury’s (ABC) speech to the House of Lords yesterday.

The ABC said,

“Seeking explanations, it is worth remembering, is not the same as seeking excuses, and in an intelligent and critical society, we do seek explanations so that we may be able to respond with greater intelligence and greater generosity”.

It seems counter-intuitive to be talking about Appreciative Inquiry (AI) at a time like this. However, I do believe that AI can be used, even in the worst of times. When things are at its bleakest, we can still try to be generative in our inquiry by asking what gives life, even in the face of wanton destruction, death, despair and hopelessness.

The ABC is pointing to something generative in the midst of the destruction and is  inviting us to build on this by inquiring into it:

“…I’ve spoken a little about the way in which communities have responded (to the rioting), not only volunteer bodies, but local businesses and also individuals, building new friendships, new networks. People have discovered why community matters. They’ve discovered why solidarity is important. They have begun to discover those civic virtues that we’ve talked about in the abstract. In other words, …I believe that this is a moment which we must seize, a moment where there is sufficient anger at the breakdown of civic solidarity, sufficient awareness of the resources people have in helping and supporting one another, sufficient hope (in spite of everything) of what can be achieved by the governing institutions of this country, to engage creatively with the possibilities that this moment gives us. And I trust, My Lords, that we shall respond with energy to that moment which could be crucial for the long-term future of our country and our society”.

In this speech, the ABC, of course, is calling on the government and in particular the House of Lords to thoughtful action. My sense is that, in our postmodern, consumerist, individualistic culture, real and lasting change can only come from the grassroots. The rediscovery of community and how we respond as community to such dire events is crucial for the long-term future of our country and our society.

For those of us in international Christian ministry, the events of the last week is a stark reminder that mission begins at home.

For a full transcript of the ABC’s speech click here.

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