sharing stories.

30 Mar

I had to laugh when my Public Management professor was giving me feedback on a recent paper. “The content is good, but you sure use a lot of words!” Yup. I do. Not just because I’m used to writing sermons, but because I’m used to writing in such a way as to tell a story. Not because I use metaphors – I wish I was more adept at that – but because when I write I like to have a beginning that flows into the middle and then comes to a conclusion that makes perfect sense given all that has already been shared. Apparently, this is not how public managers generally write.

His comments got me thinking about why I write this way. I think it is because I am so curious about the whos/whats/whys/wheres/hows that I end up incorporating that sort of detail when I write. And because personally, when I read someone else’s narrative, this sort of flow keeps me engaged, nodding my head. I get it better.

I remember hearing a piece on This American Life about how canvassers, going door to door in California to change minds about Proposition 8, were able to do so by having lengthy conversations with the people who opened their doors. Conversations where they shared their stories. The evidence that TAL quoted has been disputed and retracted, but based on my own experience, I think there is a lot of truth here: When we listen to someone’s story, it has the capacity to change our hearts, and maybe even our minds, in a way that listening to a recitation of facts does not.

I was thinking about this a recently when I attended one of Donald Trump’s rallies here in Louisville. The place was packed. I went inside with a few clergy friends of mine, in collars and stoles, because I had heard it was a mad free-for-all of violence and hate and I thought we might be able to be a calming presence.

But where we were in the arena, it was all families. With babies, toddlers, children of all ages. They were excited to see the President. I don’t even know how many of them were Trump supporters (many of them left 5 minutes after he started speaking). I was curious – what were their stories? Why had they come? It was not at all what I was expecting.

I realized, too, that listening to their stories wouldn’t only satisfy my curiosity, it could also be a good strategic move. If I know what motivates someone, then I am more able to speak in such a way that they will hear. I wondered what would have happened if I had had time to listen to the stories of some of those families, and if they could have heard the stories of some of my compatriots outside at the protest. How might that experience have changed us?

Sharing stories, our own stories, helps us understand each other. It gives context to dry demographic details and helps us understand each other. It allows us to deepen our empathy for one another. It gives us a chance to experience someone else’s perspective, at least for a short while.

I wish we had more opportunities for such sharing.

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