Archive for the 'Storytelling' Category

Dec 10 2017

How to talk to each other when you don’t agree

Published by under Storytelling

The other night, I was in New York City where we saw a new play on Broadway called The Band’s Visit. It’s the story of an Egyptian band that plays a concert in a small Israeli village and what happens there. Without even a mention of politics, it shows us that being human can transcend our differences.

There are many groups working for peace in the Middle East irrespective of differences. It is heartening to see people who have a right to be angry and upset reaching out, across political, geographical, and ideological borders to find solutions. But we know it is not easy. The other day, a young American woman told me that she does not even speak with part of her family because they support politicians and ideologies that she considers stupid. Yet she is sad because these are people with whom she shares history and a bloodline, people she loves. I challenged her to go to them and start a dialog, without blame or judgment. Why do they feel the way they do? What has happened in their lives to bring them to this viewpoint?

Although she was willing to try, she asked how to get that conversation started. How do we get past the differences that bring on fear and hate and get back to love and understanding? In an earlier post, I discussed three ingredients of a meaningful conversation. These are

  1. Inquiry­– Be genuinely curious.
  2. Implicit communication– Be direct and honest.
  3. Humor– Lighten up when possible.

These are still at the top of my list as components of the best deep conversations, but the place to start when you know you may not agree is with what you have in common rather than what you don’t. To do this, you might share memories with family members with whom you disagree, or find out what is important to your conversation partner by being inquisitive, or you might already know what you share in common and talk about it.

It is easy to get stuck in one story, the story of our differences, but by looking for other stories we can often find shared experiences that demonstrate that our polarized solutions are based in concerns about the same issues; this can open the way for solutions and they might be solutions that are far better than either side alone could find. Besides the wonderful music and excellent acting, this was the beauty of The Band’s Visit; the effect of sharing common ground was not contrived; it unfolded naturally and spoke of possibility rather than futility. Conversation was still tough at times, but the people in the story were able to get through it because they shared common interests and stories. In a powerful TED talk given by writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, she tells us that when we don’t hear more than one story about others “we risk a critical misunderstanding.” Her talk is about misperceptions that Westerners have about people in Africa, but it applies to any story where “one story about others” is all we know and all we use to form our opinions about them.

Invitation to comment or share your story: I do what I do because I believe that if we could all communicate more effectively, the world would be a better place. I would love to hear your story of finding common ground in spite of differences. Please share in the comments or send me your story via my contact form.

Photo credits: ID 42164247 © Leerodney Avison


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Nov 18 2015

The Rise of the Storyteller, and How to Be One

Published by under Storytelling

Today, I was traveling on business and picked up The Wall Street Journal. On the cover were all the reminders of terror and fear. I almost put it down because who needs to be reminded that the world is a dangerous place when they are 1000 miles from home? However, as I thumbed through the paper, I saw an article about an app fordreamstime_m_51579183smartphones from an organization called “Storycorps.” I’ve known about this organization for a while, and have loved watching the very short stories that the organization has recorded and published…awe-inspiring, touching, funny, or average, they are all captivating. Now, Storycorps has added a new feature­– you can record your own story. Not only that, but if you want to, you can add it to the Library of Congress where they are creating “an archive of the wisdom of humanity.” And what is that wisdom? It’s what your grandma taught you, or a lesson you learned the other day, or the healing of someone you admire. Most of them are interviews, but nothing earth shattering. Just stories about people. And always fascinating nonetheless.

Stories bring us closer. Your story reminds me of my own, and also reminds me that we are human together, no matter our differences. Anthropologists say that when society has lost its way, the storytellers appear.  If you want to participate in this archive, or if you just want to record a story that your papa tells this Thanksgiving and/or participate in the Great Thanksgiving Listen (a special Storycorps initiative designed to record the stories of an entire generation in one weekend!), download the app and follow the directions. And here are three tips for telling a great story:

  1. Make sure there is a beginning a middle and an end.
  2. Make sure there is an obstacle that has to be overcome, or something that needs to be resolved, and resolve it.
  3. Let the emotions come out. Let them be expressed through your voices and your words. Emotions draw people in and touch their hearts. And that’s what story is all about.

“I hope you will go out and let stories, that is life, happen to you, and that you will work with these stories… water them with your blood and tears and your laughter till they bloom, till you yourself burst into bloom.”
Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype

For more on this topic, please see my post  From Information to Imagination: Delivering a good story

or Your Speech Needs a Blizzard.

Photo © Wandruschka |

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