What is Divergence?

Divergence is a week long Festival of Madness.  It aims to provide a space for Mad people, to connect, celebrate, showcase and share the richness of their lives, to one another and also the wider community.  We want sane folk to have an opportunity to witness our diversity and have an opportunity to see what we as divergent people bring to the world.

First held in 2019, the festival combines art, performance, conversation, activity and education to bring a celebration of Mad lives to the community.  The theme for 2019 was Mad Wisdom, and this year we are excited to announce the discussion will be on Unboxed Lives. 

We want to invite all people whose lives are touched by Mad experiences, regardless of how they identify these experiences, across culture, age, gender, basically for everyone to join in the celebrations.

What is the 2020 theme?

In  2020 the theme for Divergence is Unboxed Lives.  This theme talks of the experience of traveling in a way that does not fit the societal understanding of what is typical.  To not fit in the box of our communities can be uncomfortable and shaming, which means we see ourselves as not acceptable, deficient or broken.  These messages are staunchly conveyed by the pathologising of human distress and difference.  


Yet, while our experiences can be hugely challenging to ourselves and also to those who are in relationship with us, our way of being brings with it benefits that our communities have not traditionally been given to the opportunity to connect with. The story told about us is not of strengths and contributions, only of the things ‘wrong’ about us.  Learning to hold both truths about our experiences, the joy and the challenge, is vital for us to learn to live our fullest lives, to develop into all who we want to be. 

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Divergence Objectives 2020:


Provide an opportunity for Mad Folk to connect and celebrate their unique ways of being

To encourage families who have been touched by Madness to join together and celebrate their vibrancy

​To showcase Mad art, culture and talents via art exhibitions, Mad poetry evenings, a variety gala and other events as scheduled

Share Mad wisdom gathered at the Mad Wisdom Cafe 2019 event ​

To bring Mad Leaders to Christchurch to share with Mad folk and the wider community how leading Mad lives can be a valuable contribution to society

Provide opportunity for professionals to gain insight into the benefits of genuinely allowing for and incorporating Mad wisdom into their practice

Why is this important for Canterbury?

Christchurch is a city that has and continues to undergo huge stress.  The earthquakes have had a significant impact on the lives of the city’s citizens, and while the earth has for the most part stopped shaking, the impacts continue to ripple through the community.  Tragically our lives were again rocked by tragedy on March 15, 2019. The murder of 51 of our the community brought a new knowledge to our community.  

The children of the city have lived through much stress and challenge, and there is discussion within the community of the impact that this has had on their development.  Conversations around childhood anxiety and stress disorders are on many lips. We potentially have a generation of children who, if the current paradigm of pathology remains unchallenged, will grow up to believe that the earthquakes made them broken, diseased, and non-functioning.  If a counter option to make meaning from was to become became available, these same children would be more likely to grow up seeing that they adapted in incredible ways to survive what was a stressful time in their lives. They may see that their responses were wise given the context and can be celebrated as a way of living that is valuable, understandable and vital for surviving hardship.  This creates a more supportive internal foundation for these young people to live boldly in the world.

We at Thriving Madly believe there’s an opportunity for Mad adults to start to role model to children and young people alternative narratives to that of the pathology view, to show that living outside the box does not make you deficient. To instead show that you bring a rich and valuable color to the world, one that is vital. We can also provide visible examples that despite mad experiences feeling overwhelming at times, there is hope, as they will pass and we can learn to live fully and to thrive in their presence or absence.  We believe that these stories are not just vital for those people post-earthquakes but also for all people experiencing trauma and stress.