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Moments of collective joy



I’m pretty sure that one of the blog posts I promised (in another blog post) that I’d write was to be about joy. Well, here it is.


The immediate prompt for this is that last Friday, we ran our first Solution-Focused Practitioner Group, ‘we’ being Marc Gardiner of the Zebra Collective and myself, together, with 16 keen-as-mustard solution-focused practitioners. As both Zebra and I have run such groups many times over many years - with Zebra’s well-established and well-attended groups for practitioners from the South-West of England still going strong - we decided to call this the Joint Solution-Focused Practitioner Group, and in promoting it we used the rather wonderful TOGETHER graphic that you can see on my Community page (and above).


While thinking about how to start the three hour session, it occurred to me that it would be good to accentuate the working together theme, both the coming together of lots of solution-focused practitioners and the fact that I would be working with Marc. I don’t think the importance of working together with others can be over-stated, really, for learning and developing skills in solution-focused practice. In the final chapter of my book, where I share some ideas that I hope will be useful in “Becoming a solution-focused practitioner”, I focus in particular on talking and working with others.

Thinking that a good exercise to start with along these lines would have people in groups of at least three, I suddenly remembered one I had created for my opening plenary at the American conference in Boulder, Colorado in 2018. I called this exercise, Forming some bridges, for reasons that will become clear, and it involved creating some joy - collective joy - through people sharing moments of collective joy together.


I had come across this notion of collective joy while reading a book earlier that year by the “Australian-born, British-based socialist feminist academic and activist” (to quote wiki), Lynne Segal, called Radical Happiness: Moments of Collective Joy. This is a terrific book, and well worth a read, and it’s one of those books that signposts you to lots of other writers, and makes you want to find out more about the many ideas and books of theirs it references. I quoted from it quite liberally during my plenary, and peppered the two slides that preceded the Forming some bridges exercise with words and ideas from its pages, which paved the way for the exercise.


Initially, I explained the general theme of Segal’s book, which was to contrast the individual nature of at least a certain sort of happiness with a more collective joy. At the end of her first chapter, Segal writes about resisting “the happiness imperative beamed down on us from every other billboard or packaged in a thousand self-help manuals” (p30) and relates how Cornel West, the black American activist and academic, distinguishes joy from commodified pleasure. Joy can cut across an individualised and inward pleasure, by getting at “non-market values - love, care, kindness, service, solidarity, the struggle for justice… that provide the possibility of bringing people together”.

The following ideas, from Aristotle, Spinoza, Adrienne Rich, Segal herself, and Audre Lorde, also came from Segal’s first chapter. In mentioning them here, ultra-briefly, I am intending to signpost to Segal’s book, which signposts to these and many other thinkers, writers and activists in turn.

Aristotle saw happiness as being not so much an emotion, a psychic state or inner disposition, but rather a way of acting in the world (p16). This is potentially useful as a response to a common critique of solution-focused brief therapy, which is that it is insufficiently attentive to the client’s emotional life. It has always seemed to me that the detailed descriptions that unfold in solution-focused sessions are rich with emotion, and that the critique really comes from different ways of seeing these aspects of people’s lives.


The seventeenth-century Dutch philosopher, Spinoza, saw joy as movement, towards ‘greater perfection’ (p18). This reminded me of a definition of hope by Thomas Aquinas that I had come across in Hope and Optimism by Terry Eagleton (another great signposting book), as being a movement, or a stretch of appetite, towards a difficult good. Again, I like the fit with solution-focused practice here, which I understand more and more as being all about movement. I think there is a real danger in seeing concepts such as ‘hope’ and ‘joy’ as psychological properties which individuals possess a certain amount of. For then, a particular person might be seen as having insufficient hope, or joy, suggesting a deficit model that is at odds with solution-focused practice. Seeing hope and joy as movement can counteract this tendency.

In addition to this, Spinoza did not see people as separate, autonomous creatures, with their own inherent natures, but as always interconnected. This both fits with the idea that joy is not an attribute possessed to different degrees by individuals, and the collective approach to happiness and joy developed by Segal (and drawn on in my exercise - coming up soon!).

This collective approach is signalled in her book’s title, and Segal informs us that she first came across this phrase, “Radical happiness”, in the writing of the American feminist and poet, Adrienne Rich (p27). Rich used it to describe what she "sometimes saw flowing all around her”, when people shared a sense of “true participation in society”. This usually happened in celebration of something that had been collectively achieved, such as at a mass poetry festival after the arrest of Pinochet in Chile in 2001, and also at an early anti-globalisation protest.

We are now building towards the exercise that these ideas all contributed to, and this quote from Lynne Segal herself, coupled with the one to follow from Audre Lorde, were the direct inspirations for it: “The triggers for joy are almost always something others might share, at least potentially, even if we experience them alone” (p23). In her book, Sister Outsider, the black American feminist activist and writer, Lorde, wrote: “The sharing of joy... forms a bridge between the sharers” (p26 - all the page numbers here are from Segal’s book).


So, I designed my exercise to form a bridge among the sharers, first at a solution-focused conference in the US, and last Friday, at our online solution-focused group (where most people were from the UK, though we had participants from Serbia, New Zealand and Ghana too). There was a bridge already, really, via solution-focused practice, and maybe the idea was simply to strengthen it, through the sharing of joy. I had one more quote to share, and it was from a video clip I had shown earlier in my conference plenary, of an interview I had made with Caroline Willcocks, the manager of the Women’s Health, Information and Support Centre in Liverpool, England.


I had seen Caroline present at the UKASFP conference in Liverpool, in June 2018, and had been inspired by her. In our interview, she shared some of her own solution-focused joy: “All of these things about solution-focused I really, really love, and I’m excited by it, and it’s the first time I’ve been excited about this kind of thing for a long time”.


Do you know a couple of other people who have come across, and maybe use, solution-focused practice? Here is an exercise you can try together at home, or at work.


Forming some bridges

Form groups of at least three.


Take it in turns to share a moment of joy from your time in the solution-focused community - when you were learning, doing, talking about, reading about, using, or teaching... solution-focused practice.

The 2nd & 3rd people to share - start by saying (something like) “Your moment reminds me of a moment for me, when...”


Finally, everyone, decide on one word that captures your moment…

Then, on a count of 3, everyone shouts out their word simultaneously - a moment of collective joy!

Guy Shennan

22 March 2021


PS More collective joy coming up! The second Joint Solution-Focused Practitioner Group will be taking place on Thursday 20th May, on Zoom, from 9.30am to 12.30pm. Watch this space for more details.


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