Storytelling and the Dangers of Disbelief

posted June 24, 2014

Social innovators can benefit from embracing complex characters and stories.

The best and most ethical fundraisers and journalists know that real life and authentic stories about life in the real world are multi-layered. They know how to find and map stories against complex landscapes—listening, too, for voices and stories that others aren’t hearing. Good journalists seek all voices that meaningfully contribute to the presentation of an authentic story. And they know that heroes do indeed exist among us.

As social innovators, we want to be heroes, and we know that our pathway to heroism isn’t simple. We live most of life across a rainbow of experience and relationships, and determining who and what to invest in, how to build a field, and how to innovate is difficult. This is the rich and fluid tapestry on which we attempt to make professional and personal decisions. Social innovators in particular can source tremendous understanding, if not empathy, from acknowledging and reflecting on this cacophonous and seemingly divergent mash up of experiences. 

Imagine if we were to bring this level of understanding of our own lives to how we ask for—and listen to—other’s stories. An authentic story requires an interested, trusting listener and an environment conducive to sharing. I often instruct listeners in storysharing exercises to listen with their whole selves—to listen as if they have never before met the person to whom they are listening or heard the story they are about to hear. That requires a level of openness and vulnerability to be moved by what they may hear, and a willingness to connect and empathize with the storysharer.


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