Storytelling and Big "T" Truth

Andrea from Italy:  What is your story about Storytelling?

truth or consequencesAs a child I wondered why people did not tell each other the truth.  I wondered even more why they did not tell themselves the truth. In the beginning I puzzled over little untruths: “Everything is fine. They mean well.” When I knew that person did NOT mean well.  That person was mean as a snake.  Little lies bothered me. “You look great.” I thought, “liar.”  As you can imagine I was not popular with teachers, now was I the most popular girl in high school.

Both as an effort to hold my tongue (I wasn’t very good at it) and to understand the social norms of what I decided to call denial I studied psychology, social psychology and adult education. Some formally, some informally as I got degrees and worked internationally getting bopped in the head by all the cultural differences about truth-telling.

As I matured, I learned that little white lies, and skirting the truth is vital to smooth human relationships.  However I also learned (research based) that over time tiny untruths, lies of omission make relationships superficial, weak, less loyal.  Superficial relationships are not likely to survive crisis, build visions, or make great companies.

In 1994 I attended – for entertainment only – the National Storytelling Festival in Tennessee. I found my holy grail.  The old stories contained universal “Truths” about sacrifice, love, ethics and yet no one got up to leave. The personal stories had the same effect. I felt bonded to these strangers and in our conversations (unusual, in that I am an introvert) they said the same thing.  “It is like we are suddenly family.”

Story has the ability to tell the truth without scaring us to death.  Our stories peel back  our defenses and bond us to our common humanity.  Our national stories bond us to our nations. Our company stories bond us to our company. Our family stories bond us to our family.  And most importantly for me, the story I tell myself about who I am, why I am here creates my every action and reaction, how I spend my time.  My story helps me make decisions.

If I client asks me to do something that might feel ethically ambiguous I ask myself, “is this who I am?” if the answer is no, I have to decline the client.  All great stories involve sacrifice of some kind at some time in the story.  I went looking for a way to get others to tell the truth and the truth ended up taking me for a tango. I’m not leading either. Story/Truth may let you THINK you are leading…but soon enough you realize you are standing there dancing by yourself.

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