Saturday, 28 August 2010

Emancipatory Practice and Lessons From Geese

This blog is adapted from the website above but includes their original text with my adaptation in italics

Lessons from Geese ( with some additional emancipatory lessons)

Fact 1

As each goose flaps its wings it creates an 'uplift' for the birds that follow. By flying in a 'V' formation, the whole flock adds 71% greater flying range than if each bird flew alone.


People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going quicker and easier because they are traveling on the thrust of one another.

Service user groups provide encouragement, support, care, and understanding in helping people cope with mental illness. For many years this was not encouraged but now some service users have developed groups of their own. However they are often controlled by the budgets of those in power. Any organisation that has particular goals or policies to follow must learn to fly in formation .

Fact 2

When a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of flying alone. It quickly moves back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front of it.


If we have as much sense as a goose we stay in formation with those headed where we want to go. We are willing to accept their help and give our help to others.

It is possible to go it alone in recovering from mental illness but this is more difficult and requires more inner strength and coping skills.  Finding people who can provide us with that uplift when we need it is important in beginning  and continuing our journey to recovery. Developing relationships with professionals and family/ friends will help us do this - so that we are not flying alone.

Fact 3

When the lead goose tires, it rotates back into the formation and another goose flies to the point position.


It pays to take turns doing the hard tasks and sharing leadership. As with geese, people are interdependent on each other's skills, capabilities and unique arrangements of gifts, talents or resources.

Identifying and sharing our skills make coping and managing easier - this is true of any team approach to a task. This means that we need to get to know each other better and before a crisis occurs so that someone can quickly take our place when necessary.  Learning to let go and let others take the lead is a strength not a weakness and benefits the whole group. Encouraging people to talk about and identify their strengths and weakness should be encouraged so that they can be recognised an planned for in times of need. (but never used against them)

Fact 4
The geese flying in formation honk to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.


We need to make sure our honking is encouraging. In groups where there is encouragement, the production is much greater. The power of encouragement (to stand by one's heart or core values and encourage the heart and core of others) is the quality of honking we seek.

Making is a noise is not just about making a noise but about demonstrating our support for each other. Making sure people are heard and developing a narrative of experiences will provide support for service users who are new to the service and will also develop a strong network of support from existing service users. Writing, talking, playing,  drawing and acting are all ways in which narratives can be heard.

Fact 5

When a goose gets sick, wounded or shot down, two geese drop out of formation and follow it down to help and protect it. They stay with it until it dies or is able to fly again. Then, they launch out with another formation or catch up with the flock.


If we have as much sense as geese, we will stand by each other in difficult times as well as when we are strong.

We all need support some of the time and in helping each other we can work towards recovery or our goals much more effectively and efficiently .
This includes helping people cope in a relapse / crisis and not blaming them or others for its cause. People get weak or ill and it is our duty to help them recover not abandon them when they are no longer useful to us. This could take some time and patience but is the minimum we can expect from each other if we are to develop emancipatory practice.

Lessons from Geese was transcribed from a speech given by Angeles Arrien at the 1991 Organizational Development Network and was based on the work of Milton Olson. It has since circulated in several organizations across the world.

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