Archive for the 'Dialogue' Category

Everyone has an important story to tell

Everyone has a story to tell, and, given an opportunity, we all want to tell the important stories of our lives, stories that explain who we are and where we came from, that prove we existed and mattered, that demonstrate our resilience, and that reveal the people and events that affected our lives.

And we can all learn important lessons from one another’s stories.

StoryCorps’ “National Day of Listening” provides an opportunity to evoke those stories.

On the day after Thanksgiving, StoryCorps asks everyone to take a few minutes to record an interview with a family member or friend.

You can use recording equipment that is readily available to you, such as a computer, smart phone, tablet, or other voice or video recorder.

StoryCorps provides a free Do It Yourself Instruction Guide.

The lesson that everyone has an important story to tell has been reinforced time and again for me as a hospice volunteer who has been privileged to record dozens of hospice patients discussing their lives in conversations with family members.

All that is required of us is to extend the invitation and to listen deeply without interruption to those stories.

Once the conversation begins, it’s likely to proceed almost effortlessly, at least in my experience.

Some possible questions include:

• What elders or events influenced the person you’ve become?

• How would you like to be remembered?

• What advice would you like to pass along to your children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, or others in your life?

There’s no gift human beings can give one another that is more important and precious than our undivided attention and genuine interest in the stories we all have to tell.

When that attention promotes storytelling that is preserved with video or voice recordings, it is a gift that benefits future generations for decades to come.

Consider:

How have stories and storytelling shaped your life?

To whom would you like to reach out—an elder, a family member or friend, a veteran, a colleague, or a neighbor, for example—to invite his or her storytelling?

[This post is adapted from one first published at Thanksgiving 2012. I have updated the links.]

Seeing the world through the eyes of others

People act based on the way they see the world. Every single time. Understanding someone else’s story is hard, a job that’s never complete, but it’s worth the effort. —Seth Godin

There is pretty much universal agreement that empathy is a desirable human quality, and it’s an attribute often found in resilient people.

• Empathy is the basis of clear communication. Understanding the view points of others is essential to effective communication in families and work settings.

• Empathy enables us to have deeper and more satisfying relationships. Without it people cannot really understand one another.

• Empathy enriches our lives by opening our minds to the experiences and perspectives of others.

• Empathy decreases the likelihood of unnecessary conflict and even wars.

Given its importance, why is empathy so often difficult to achieve for so many of us?

• We may believe that demonstrating understanding of others’ points of view is the same as agreeing with them.

• We fear that our willingness to fully understand others’ points of view will signal weakness on our part.

• We are aware that empathy opens us to being influenced by others, which, in turn, may create cognitive dissonance that requires us to change our viewpoint and perhaps even our behavior. Put another way, we understand that empathy may be the first step on a slippery slope that will lead us to significant change.

“Tell me a story.”

In my experience the most effective way to see the world through the eyes of others is to invite them to tell us a story about an influential elder, a formative event in their lives, or anything else that seems appropriate.

Better yet, tell others a story from your own life related to the subject at hand and invite them to do the same.

Storytelling is a powerful way to:

• deepen understanding of others’ points of view,

• establish common ground for resolving conflicts and making decisions, and

• strengthen relationships with significant people in our lives.

What practices or tools enable you to create empathy with others?

Speak short

 

[Senator Chuck] Schumer told me in December that Democrats would have “five, six sharp-edged [policies] that can be described in five words,” although it sounds as if the plan hasn’t come out quite so lean.  —Dana Milbank

I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead. ― Mark Twain

Speaking and writing succinctly is challenging. So challenging that many people, even ones who are otherwise accomplished, never master the skill.

Influence, however, often requires “speaking short,” saying less rather than more, but packing a lot of meaning into those few words.

Think “elevator talk”—the ability to communicate an important message to someone you want to influence whose attention you have for only the brief duration of an elevator ride.

Think “radical simplicity.”

What important message in your personal or professional life would benefit if it were polished into an approximation of bumper-sticker length?

Inviting “big talk”

Make a life in which you are having the conversations you want to have.” — Laura Mott

Resilient people are proactive, and one of the ways they demonstrate that quality is by creating conversations that matter to them with their families and friends and in their work settings.

Think of those conversations as “big” rather than “small.”

While small talk has important purposes, large talk matters because it is far more likely to produce meaningful learning and to strengthen relationships.

During these conversations participants come to understand important things about themselves, each other, and the subject under discussion.

The world would be a better place, I believe, if such conversations were more frequently cultivated in families and the workplace.

In an earlier post I wrote that conversations for learning require:

• intentionality, 

• deep and mindful listening, 

• slowness that provides opportunities for thinking and elaboration, 

• an openness to learning based on a deep respect for the experiences and perspectives of others, and

an invitation, which may be as simple and straight forward as “please tell me more.” (Australian educator Edna Sackson explains how even difficult conversations can be improved when they begin with such invitations.)

What “requirements” would you add to my list?

3 primary threats to public education

We are not in an education crisis. We are in a crisis of poverty that is being exacerbated by the school accountability movement and the testing industry. At best, this movement has been misguided. At worst, it is an intentional set up to bring about the demise of the public education system – mandatory testing designed to produce poor results which leads to greater investment made in test preparation programs provided by the same companies who produce the tests, coupled with a related push for privatization of the educational system. All touted as a means to save us from this false crisis. Politics, not education, got us into this mess, and it is politics that must get us out of it. —Kristina L. Taylor

A robust system of public education is essential for a thriving democracy and a growing economy.

Historically, Americans have invested in public institutions.

Nikole Hannah-Jones describes that history in a piece titled, “Have We Lost Sight of the Promise of Public Schools?”:

“Early on, it was this investment in public institutions that set America apart from other countries. Public hospitals ensured that even the indigent received good medical care — health problems for some could turn into epidemics for us all. Public parks gave access to the great outdoors not just to the wealthy who could retreat to their country estates but to the masses in the nation’s cities. Every state invested in public universities. Public schools became widespread in the 1800s, not to provide an advantage for particular individuals but with the understanding that shuffling the wealthy and working class together (though not black Americans and other racial minorities) would create a common sense of citizenship and national identity, that it would tie together the fates of the haves and the have-nots and that doing so benefited the nation. A sense of the public good was a unifying force because it meant that the rich and the poor, the powerful and the meek, shared the spoils — as well as the burdens — of this messy democracy….”

Public schools today are being profoundly affected by strong social and political forces that those invested in the future of this country cannot ignore.

Those forces are part of a larger anti-public institution agenda that has been gaining momentum for several decades.

Public education as we know it has, in my view, three primary threats:

1. Radical capitalists who believe that maximum profit should be extracted from every revenue source, including those provided by taxpayers to support the public good.  A primary strategy to divert funds intended for public education is to denigrate and create distrust regarding teachers, teacher unions, and, most of all, public education in general.

2. Poverty and low-quality healthcare that has a particularly profound affect in impoverished neighborhoods and communities on the ability of young people to learn and on their overall well-being. (You can read more about the effects of poverty on children here and here.)

3. The possibility that unrelenting attacks on teachers and the consequences of high-stakes testing and other “reforms” will demoralize teachers and create a sense of resignation about the chances for meaningful improvement. That, in turn, would provide a further opportunity for radical capitalists to exert their will over public education.

Nonetheless, Hannah-Jones continues to place her faith in public schools:

“If there is hope for a renewal of our belief in public institutions and a common good, it may reside in the public schools. Nine of 10 children attend one, a rate of participation that few, if any, other public bodies can claim, and schools, as segregated as many are, remain one of the few institutions where Americans of different classes and races mix. The vast multiracial, socioeconomically diverse defense of public schools that DeVos set off may show that we have not yet given up on the ideals of the public — and on ourselves.”   

Although public education has been an important force for the common good over many generations of students, there is no guarantee that it will continue to play its historic role in American life.

It remains to be seen if the public good provided by public education is sufficiently resilient to withstand these threats as they are intensified over the next several years.

What would you add to or subtract from my list?

Together we can achieve what none of us can accomplish alone

Without a community, it is nearly impossible to achieve voice: it takes a village to raise a Rosa Parks. Without a community, it is nearly impossible to exercise the “power of one” in a manner that multiplies: it took a village to translate Park’s act of personal integrity into social change. In a mass society like ours, community rarely comes ready-made. But creating community in the places where we live and work does not mean abandoning other parts of our lives to become full-time organizers. The steady companionship of two or three kindred spirits can kindle the courage we need to speak and act as citizens. —Parker Palmer

Resilient people understand that sustaining a commitment to significant change requires the support, guidance, and inspiration of a community.

But not all groups are created equal in their resilience and effectiveness.

Groups that make a difference:

• have skillful, committed leaders who maintain focus and momentum over time,

• ensure that group time is used productively to achieve the group’s goals,

• have a stable core membership,

• engage in high-impact activities,

• follow through on plans with accountability for results, and

• train group members to successfully complete agreed upon activities.

In schools such collective work requires strong teamwork which can take a variety of forms.

In the area of social justice and political change the group RESULTS sets the standard for grass roots advocacy. Its purpose is to end poverty by “improving access to education, health, and economic opportunity” through advocacy and education of policy makers.

More recently “Indivisible” groups are forming and beginning to take action in many communities throughout the United States. Their purpose is to create local pressure on members of Congress to counter the most destructive policies and actions of the new administration, and even at this early date it appears that they are beginning to have some success.

Indivisible’s advocacy is based “…on a simple idea: Donald Trump’s agenda doesn’t depend on Donald Trump. It depends on your elected members of Congress and whether they go along with him—or whether they fight back.”

If any or all of these approaches are appealing, I encourage you to get involved.

Remember:

• that demagogues win when citizens feel overwhelmed and become resigned to the status quo, and

• that together we can achieve what none of us can accomplish alone.

I am relying on the long-term resilience of…

• the U.S. Constitution and the rule of law

• the courage of countless individuals within government and outside of it who speak truth to power in the face of bullying and other forms of intimidation

• the power of existing and yet-to-be established groups that will empower citizens to stand for America’s founding principles and place in the world community

• a free and independent press that will relentlessly seek and tell the truth to the highest journalistic standards

considered judgment over raw opinion and impulsivity

• science and rational evidence-based decision making over ignorance and superstition

• the historic capacity of Americans to resist tyranny wherever it may arise

sanity-preserving humor over arrogance and vindictiveness

generosity over greed

a sense of “we” over “me”

Most of all, I’m relying on the resilience of love to prevail over hate, inclusiveness over exclusiveness, respect over disrespect, civility over incivility, and reasoned debate over emotion and propaganda.

I don’t know if any one of these qualities will be sufficient, but I am hopeful that in combination they will provide a brighter future for all of us.

In what do you place your hope?


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