Too many of us have listened to eulogies. In no instances do we ever hear this:
• When I spent time with S, I knew I’d need to have my walls up, fists too.
• S was cold and mean and unforgiving.
• S loved to make others feel irrelevant.
• S despised kindness of any form and endeavored to live a life that made others feel unseen.
• S thought only about S.
• S never tried to communicate with people who didn’t look and sound like S.
• S was proud of knowing not a grain of detail about anyone else’s life and family and was not about to waste energy in that effort.
No eulogies ever mention these ways of being in the world. Eulogies celebrate the human story. They share ways in which the departed connected to and meant something to the speaker. In the example of S, these are clearly not celebrated human behaviors. Yet too many of us participate in, perpetuate and protect these ways of being in an organization, on a team or in life. Why?
Because we lack trust.
Because we’re scared.
Because we don’t know ourselves.
It seems a little old school Cobra Kai. (Remember? Karate Kid? Strike first. No mercy). That way is not the way, my friend. The Johnny Lawrence and Daniel LaRusso version of Cobra Kai meets Miyagi-do will win in the end every time.
Be the brave one.
Be like water.
Find ways to see each other.
Find ways to be genuinely, kindly curious.
In organizations and teams, it’s common to see an “About” tab or “Our Story” on a company’s website. Companies want to give the customer or consumer a sense of who they are, what they’re about, possibly where they came from and what they aim to achieve or provide.
In turn the company aims to understand the customer, anticipate their needs and position themselves for a long lasting relationship. It’s an exchange.
Do you think that same level of attention happens in most organizations internally? Whereby the organizations give the same attention to their employees — to aim to understand them, to anticipate their needs and work toward building a long and lasting relationship? Some do, for sure. But I am genuinely asking, is it common?
What if the same weight was given to the power of story internally as externally? What if an exchange of values and experiences could be playfully incorporated into workplace cultures to make employees feel seen, heard and valued for a long time to come?
Nothing brings clarity like story. Nothing brings understanding like story. Nothing sparks the imagination like story. You can see it in your mind’s eye— that flash of light that illuminates the eyes and face of someone rapt by a story, connecting to it, being dazzled and energized by it. Nothing connects and brings a feeling of oneness to a group or organization like story. Story connects in relationship with others and in relationship with oneself.
The Flipside of Story
But story has a flip side, and I wonder if you see it in your organization or on your team.
On the flip side of story is: Gossip. Judgment. Conflict. Assumption. Misunderstanding.
Rather than connecting, it divides.
While gossip gives the illusion of connecting, it’s coupled with a cloud of mistrust that creeps into that falsely delicious space and a subconscious crevice forms. Connection formed through gossip is built on a faulty foundation. It’s temporary. It’s unstable.
To gossip is to weaponize story.
As leaders of our families, our companies, our organizations and our personal lives, how can we foster an environment that encourages — in a healthy, constructive way — connecting through story?
Where would you begin?
What creative ways can you dream up that would be unique to you and your situation?
I can offer one starting place: Ask a question. Then listen like you love each other. And listen like you care.
One day, we will find that we do love, and we do care, in spite of ourselves.
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