When I really look at people, I see stories.
I imagine how they could have gotten to this point in their life. I wonder what they will do next. I project a future for them, one where they open to possibility and face their fears.
To me, understanding who a person is right now is like understanding a cabbage, just an object.
Humans are dynamic creatures, defined by motion and change. Not understanding their stories removes the life from a human, separating them from their triumphs and challenges.
If I want to be in relationship with another human, even for a few minutes, the more I engage their stories, working to feel their pain, their desires, their history, their expectations and their dreams the more I can get from the interaction.
Where we connect is in our stories, and so are the bits that block us from connecting. If we don’t enter one another’s stories, we never discover where our lives touch, don’t find the continuous common human humanity which threads through each of us.
When I meet someone, I will often ask them to tell me a story. It is the act of active listening to them, engaging their life on their terms, working hard to see though their eyes and understand their priorities which lets them open to me, finding me a safe and respectful partner worth sharing with.
I know that no one will listen to you until the believe that you have listened to them. Why waste energy on someone who is just going to erase you by reducing what you value into something shallow that they already understand?
In the end, it is I who gain from really working to engage the stories of others. It builds my understanding of our shared world, allowing me to build up a wider, deeper perspective. By taking on their language and their tales I expand and extend my own wisdom, learning from them.
As a writer, I am always looking for the cutting phrase, the telling anecdote. How can I find powerful language without knowing where the nodes are, the points of connection which cut through human experience? The ideas and moments that stir others and also stir me are what should be captured and shared to convey the links that make us human?
As a manager, someone who wants to get things done, I know that engaging people’s stories lets me build up mental models of them. When I know what turns them on, know what they value, I can find ways to keep them connected with the work, find ways to address their disturbances.
Recontexualizing stories, bringing out new and shared meanings, is the best way to help someone find their own power. Cutting through story knots can clear their vision up, letting them see the threads that got them to this point and start spinning new yarns which can take them forward while holding the past with compassion.
This is mommy management, the power of women who collect stories to weave not only the stories into art, but to also knot the owners of those stories into effective and compassionate community.
By holding people’s stories as sacred, I hold them as sacred. Their journey, caught by their experience and bound in the stories they tell, shapes their vision of the world. It reveals the basis of their choices, even in the way it seeks to rationalize and justify those choices. Even the stories we tell to hide truths end up revealing us.
Story play, where we make up stories about the people we see around us, can often be a great way to put words to what we sense about their approach to the world. By taking a non-verbal understanding of them and making up a story about them, we can bring what we only feel into clarity, into wit, into compassion, into a much fuller view of their humanity.
By affirming that other people are their stories, even the fictions they prompt us to spin, we become more open to the powerful real stories all around us. Nodes and connections begin to appear, jewels of understanding that mark connections and truths.
Having access to those intersections, the stories that we tell become richer, more full of the veneration of the one human nature that we all share.
When I look at people, I see stories. Stories are what lie underneath our surfaces and veneers, running right through flesh and blood to a life force and spirit that profoundly connects us all.
Stories, to me, are where human wisdom and the beauty lies.