Once Upon A Time (Part 1)

Photo by Robyn Budlender on Unsplash

Last week, I had the opportunity to present the closing keynote speech for the Professional Development Day Conference presented by the Academic Counselor’s Association at the The University of Texas at Austin. In preparing for the speech, I had a couple of insights I found interesting, so I thought I’d share the first part of the speech with you today. Part 2 will be next week.

The speech was called “Once Upon A Time: Stories and Community” which explains the overarching premise – sharing our stories helps create community. One of our roles as leaders is to share the stories of our organization. Equally important is creating the opportunity for individuals to share their stories and for those stories to be honored and heard.

We all have stories. Some stories connect us to a heritage. There are family stories and we each have personal stories. We have stories that connect us to each other and stories that teach. When we share stories, the act helps us create and become part of community. What’s wonderful about stories is that they don’t have to be “ours” to matter, to teach us, to bring us in.

•“People become real when we put interaction into words: story is the foundation of relationship. With words alone we can create connection, establish community.”
•Christina Baldwin

The theory is that stories have an evolutionary purpose. We are wired for story because narrative and emotion increase the likelihood that we’ll remember the information encoded in that story.  https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/11/the-psychological-comforts-of-storytelling/381964/

•“Storytelling is fundamental to the human search for meaning, whether we tell tales of the creation of the earth or of our own earthly choices.”
•Mary Catherine Bateson

One of the interesting things about stories, is that our understanding of them changes over time. As we learn and grow, we understand more nuance about a story we may have heard and told many times. And we might both understand the same story differently because our background and experiences prepare us to hear different elements in that story. What’s interesting about that to me is that even diametrically opposed interpretations of a story can both be true. The challenge then becomes trying to understand that other viewpoint.

Author Sherri Tepper wrote a science fiction novel about life on a different planet than earth and on that planet is a life form that looks like a small, cuddly animal to the humans who now live there. However, these creatures are sentient beings with a complex culture and language. One of their cultural tenets is that you can’t know the ‘truth’ of a story until all sides of it have been ‘sung’ or told. Which means including the pain and the beauty, the evil and the good. Leaving out any part of the story means that the true meaning can’t be discovered.

When I used to do conduct work, that idea was foundational to our work. You can’t make a decision whether or not a rule has been broken until you hear from all parties. What is the idea of a hearing in due process but a codification of the idea that everyone of us should have a chance to tell our story?

I challenged the conference attendees to think about the stories they share with the students they work with. I also challenged them to make it possible for students to share their stories and to listen to them including the most painful ones.

•“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
•Maya Angelou

What stories do you share? Within your organization? With your family? With friends? Are there other stories you might tell if someone was willing to listen open-mindedly and open-heartedly? How do you create opportunities for others to share their stories? This is part of the work of creating community. It is the work of leadership.

This week, why not try to open your ears to the stories you hear and the ones you tell. You might be surprised by what you hear and learn. Next week I’ll share my thoughts about applying the hero’s journey to our work and to our own experiences.

Take care,


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