Finding Common Ground From The World Of Storytelling

I just finished a very powerful meeting today with my Mastermind group where we talked from the heart about our work and its connection to the larger world. These are 4 high powered business guys who've achieved significant success. I wasn't expecting our conversation to be about -- or an expression of -- what is in our hearts. But we did as each talked about our reactions to the changes in our country and ways we want to move forward with Purposeful Action, both personally and professionally. I'm so glad we did. We all came away with new appreciations of each other, the road we travel, and perspectives we can shift that is built on mutual understanding, not "I'm right and you're wrong."

After our meeting today I begin going through my email. One was from the Executive Director of a nonprofit I work with. His words really resonated with me and I immediately thought to share them with you. Why? Because it ties in so well with the earlier discussion of Purposeful Action. 

I have storytelling colleagues who work in war torn areas -- where people who literally want to kill each other come into a room together to tell their stories. As stories are shared, violence and stereotypes start disintegrating while common understanding grows. My colleagues are kind of like Doctors Without Borders. I affectionately call them Storytellers Without Borders. Maybe that's something everyone of us can all aim for: being willing to listen -- no matter what beliefs you hold -- and the open sharing of stories to understand one another. But this requires a certain mind set, which the words below help us achieve.

As Don Wells, Executive Director of Just In Time For Foster Youth says today:

Words of Wisdom

“In the aftermath of last week’s Presidential election, there’s an unusual amount of uncertainty in the air as many of us look for the way forward when our country seems more divided than ever. How do we understand those who seem so far from our own perspective? What do we do to bridge the gap when the gulf between people seems so vast? What do we do next to create community when no one is eager to listen?

As I pondered these questions for my own best response to the current conflicts we face, I looked at the JIT Core Values on the wall in my office; values that lie at the foundation of how we strive to engage with each other, connect with our diverse volunteers, and create partnerships with the young people we serve.

Then I thought about how these values were chosen to embody how to be our best selves. I imagined how it might work to apply them to my next difficult conversation about politics or culture. Then I decided, maybe I’ll start here.

AUTHENTIC

We are open, honest, and courageous in the sharing of our time, treasure, and talents. What would happen if everyone dropped the talking points and decided to share instead? Relating with one another as people instead of labels? In conversation, to give something rather than being armed to protect themselves?

CONNECTION

We use effective and empowering communication to serve our youth. What would happen if the intention was to communicate rather than win the argument? With the other person leaning in to learn something rather than being shouted down?

COLLABORATION

We seek the WIN-WIN in every situation to achieve the best solution for all involved. What would happen if we started every conversation determined that the other person would feel listened to at the end of your interaction? If we assume the other person has the best of intentions and we allow the space for cooperation without accommodation?

COMPASSION/RESPECT

We act with compassion at all times, toward others and ourselves. I matter, you matter. What would happen if we were strong in our convictions and able to express them with confidence, honesty, and passion AND we could explore the honest convictions of others before rejecting them as unworthy of our examination? If we could disagree with someone and still communicate that we value them as a human being?

INQUIRY

We ask great questions. What made us stop?

INSPIRATION

We engage in a way that inspires our youth and fulfills the JIT mission. What would happen if we acted in a way that inspired our children? If we kept in mind that young people are watching us and learning how to be in the world? What would happen if we became a model for our children instead of acting like children?

OWNERSHIP

We take ownership of our words, actions and commitments. What would happen if we stopped blaming each other?

It may not always work. But someone has to change this trajectory. So I’ll start here.”

I like how powerful these values and Don's questions are are to help us build perspective. I love how this is coming from their organizational values.

Someone in our Mastermind conversation today made a remark about the sentiment being expressed from Trump supporters of "Just get over it." Anytime that or something similar is expressed, we know we are experiencing the beginnings of an "I'm right, you're wrong" conversation. We absolutely must not let that slide, or be pulled into right/wrong conversations -- because then we are protecting a position instead of building understanding. We must stop, be curious, and start asking meaningful questions that help each side find common ground, IMHO.

There are significant consequences to right/wrong debates: lost of trust and respect, with more fighting, pain, distance along with feelings of hopelessness, anger, and victimization. We don't need to go there. We can choose a different path that generates mutual respect, deeper relationships, clarity in action steps, productivity, and personal freedom.. Choose now.

If you find yourself being dragged into a right/wrong debate, here's what NOT to do:

  • Igmore it
  • Point out to the other person the error of their ways -- that they seem more interested in proving themselves right and being divisive than finding common ground. That's just you starting a right/wrong debate from YOUR position. Not helpful.

Be curious and ask thoughtful questions instead. What kinds of practical yet meaningful questions can we ask to spark a dialogue that builds connection, instead of right/wrong debates? I'll start with a few basic inquiries from the world of storytelling: 

  • What did you like about the election?
  • What do you think the election means to you?
  • What did you learn from the election?
  • Could you share with me an experience in your life that reflects one of the positions in the election?
  • What do you desire most for all of us together as we move forward?
  • What areas of agreement do we have that we can work on together?

I'm sure you'll think of more questions, or even better ones. You might not find lots of common ground today, but you've laid the foundation for tomorrow. With heartfelt gratitude for all you do - -

Karen Dietz