This happened near work today, and sparked a whole lot of faith in humanity and urban life too! I couldn’t wait to run back to work and share this with colleagues. Hooray for empathy & neighborly care.
Has a misplaced memory from your past ever slapped you alert?
That type of mental flash rushed up while walking through DC’s Willard Hotel today, pondering Dr. King. The Willard is a great historical wonder here in town, and is where Dr. King finished his I Have a Dream speech before the August, 1963 March on Washington.
It’s fun to daydream about his possible inner workings at that point. Like how did he manage his nerves & mental discipline? Was it pure resolve for justice that kept his focus steady? What enabled his courage? his faith?
All the inner-voice questions then turned to a specific line of thought in his speech.
Do you recall learning that phrase as a kid? Dr. King’s insistence that there is no other time for racial justice than this exact second, this precise moment. It’s riveting, full of beckoning.
That particular phrase, and stewing over it at the hotel, is when an uneasy memory re-surfaced…:
Friends and I had attended a conference in Austin a while ago. We were strolling along in town when some passerby looks at our group and calls out the degrading n-word. A mix of black & white women and men comprised our friends. Black friends among us handled the insult with calm, shooing the guy and his immoral mouth down the road. But instead of seizing that moment to stand-up alongside friends, instead of asserting that specific urgency of now to voice defense — I hid behind two girlfriends while other people handled the situation with strength of mind.
It is that hiding that stirs up shame in my heart. It’s embarrassing to see moments when one’s fear wins out over a choice for justice. Did buddies back in that instant need me to speak up? Nope, that seems condescending to think so.
But it was humbling to see how that past ‘urgency of now’ with friends slipped through the shadows of my own cowardice.
It’s time for some self-forgiveness I suppose, and readiness to confront the present urgencies of now. Black lives matter dearly. Thank you again Dr. King for summoning your leadership, heart, and inner power. Happy (a little belated) Birthday.
Have you ever had those moments walking really fast to some destination…all absorbed in thought?
That’s where my brain was recently when walking downtown near the White House. Then a monk in flowing orange robes jolted attention, stopping my up-in-thought walk in a heartbeat. A quick (but full) exchange transpired with him, and has lingered in memory for a while.
Which stirs up another question: Is in-person connection a dying art?
Friend Lovisa asked that recently. I found it a tough question to answer without some concern, since our culture connects so much through screens…the mobile phones and tech in its (addictive) variety! How will this steady diet of screened-connections, vs in-person ones, affect our internal wiring? I fret sometimes how much our screened-in reliance on technology could numb our agility to communicate eyeball-to-eyeball.
But that fretting subsides a little when thinking about the monk. His pure intent enabled a strong in-person connection, and has renewed some confidence in human ability to engage screenlessly.
Have you ever hidden from the truth in something, like the reality of a particular story or experience?
For a few years, I’ve resisted a memory that happened near home in Washington, DC (per the 1.5 minute clip here). It inspired plenty of turbulent reactions on my end. It disappointed my (naive?) sense of how humanity can extend respect and a capacity to empathize. The scene involves a homeless person, one bystander, and myself encountering each other at a local downtown park.
I’m not sure why this took a few years to share this openly. Maybe the emotional whirlwind it gave way to took that long to process. Sometimes the brain takes a while to sift through an experience, and arrive at a more shareable piece of the story.
Do you have a reliable tip or resource that regularly gets you out of a bind??
In that spirit, there’s a favorite tip coming to mind now for telling stories. It’s a perception tool I’m fond of when selecting speech content and stories in general. It helps to weed out irrelevant and overly complex anecdotes too (…trying to amp up suspense here). And it’s most useful when that frustrating mental moment arrives i.e. ‘all-my-stories-and-examples-sound-ridiculous’ when organizing for a talk coming up. You know that type of frustration?!
With all this prefacing in mind (thanks for the patience), a favorite fall-back storytelling tip is:
>>>To select the simple, scenic moments vs to think in epic terms.<<<
Often when selecting content for a speech, especially the storytelling pieces, it’s easy to get bogged down in that is-it-compelling-and-epic-enough brain trap. This line of thinking often stifles logical or creative decisiveness for what can clearly guide the audience. Many fantastic speakers with strong, teachable ideas suffer greatly during speech prep for this reason (happens a lot in my own prep work).
‘What if my story isn’t grandiose enough?!’
Please let go of that mental query, and consider storytelling in a different light.
Thinking in scenic vs epic or grandiose terms helps loosen the strangle hold on the storytelling brain, and hastens clarity of mind. Observing stories in bite-size scenic slices can make intended meaning more accessible for audience and speaker alike.
— can a relevant conversation from your world be relayed, outlining an important decision which many audience members have confronted?
— what is a teachable moment in your experience which defines meaning, in one simple paragraph for the audience even if it puts you in a vulnerable light? A quirky example: “So during my presentation, I had to run out to use the restroom while 50 top executives sat there waiting… Upon return, the only thing I could think of was to laugh and say: ‘Well thanks for your patience. And that’s exactly what we need to change design process in our company for the long term.”
— can one single data point create a simple storytelling scene, which you then base your persuasive argument?
— can one direct question be asked, shaping a micro story for the audience which they can identify with immediately? An example: “What does it take to keep our children safe, especially when city budget cuts will reduce police forces by 20%?”
Often it is the simple, tightly-shaped scenes that define and crystalize meaning. Epic storytelling has its place in the world of audience connection too. But often, the goal to be epic strangles the speaker’s mental processing and obscures clarity of mind. How can meaning directly reach and serve the audience? For this reason, it’s worth dissecting our storytelling archives for the most direct and teachable scenes in order to relate.
A 100 second video story for kicks: international friendship
My goal this year is to practice the simple pleasures of storytelling more. Sharing 100 second video story clips about architecture is my favorite way to dive into this goal. On that note, have you heard or read about the term ‘international friendship?’ In 1908, the U.S. Secretary of State Elihu Root described the OAS building this way, a “temple of international friendship.” It’s a beautiful, striking building in Washington, DC with more in the above 100 second clip.
What type of group or religion or person would do such a thing in Boston? in Oklahoma City? in other parts of the United States? Who would legitimize violence as a way to deliver a message?
Each wave of questioning has carved out my own little pedestal of moral resolve as an American citizen, which wasn’t something I realized independently. It was a realization brought on this morning when Guardian writer Glenn Greenwald served up a gigantic slice of humble pie for breakfast.
A huge empathic challenge
In his commentary, Greenwald clearly condemns the violent attacks on Boston. He empathizes with sincerity. He also compels the United States to stretch their sense of empathy and discernment. He considers the actions of the United States military too, and how it perpetrates the same violence in other countries in and beyond President Obama’s leadership: in Pakistan, in Yemen, more. I can’t quite express the mental hard stop his assertions provoked. It was and remains unsettling to consider. Because his line of thinking gives way to these concerns:
Is there always another layer of empathy to expand the story of truth? That seems existential, relevant, and frustrating.
When do healthy self-reflection and ownership in our country achieve an acceptable level of thoroughness? fairness? And could their be agonizing delays in justice along the way, with the perpetrators of Boston’s attack in mind here? How can we systemically change our military ethos, protect our citizenry, and honor innocents in other countries too all at the same time?
Necessary, wearisome questions all. None of which I know how to address.
Gaining relief from local history, a favorite bridge, and a change in context: 100 second video story
A colleague recently said how difficult it can be to defend one’s point of view in the face of disagreement. That resonates. The very idea of heated debate inspires some pensive butterflies, especially when a level of political vitriol can potentially be involved.
Two ideas come to mind to prepare before and during a disagreement:
Practice your views on-camera and when the stakes are low.
Many people have expressed being caught off guard in a contrarian conversation with colleagues, bosses, or clients. If only a fortune teller app came with mobile phones to forecast when disagreements will occur… What can help self-assertion though (and adrenaline management) is to spend 5 minutes a week – or day! – expressing opinions to a video camera. A mobile phone camera works great. Nothing replaces live-time engagement with humans certainly, but fortifying one’s clarity of mind when the stakes are low through regular on-camera practice increases resolve (…for when the more vulnerable, live-time debates arise). Client and friend communities describe this type of video practice as incredibly useful. It’s one reason I like to stick my mug in front of a camera to video blog: it creates a practice forum with adrenaline.
Assert a greater vocal tone and ask two specific questions.
When in a heated disagreement, certainly there can be many variables and influences in play.
If the other contender in your debate or stressed conversation is in a constant-talking-without-pause mode, consider looking them in the eye and saying in an assertive, respectful, and deepened tone: “Could I ask you one question?”
When they pause to take a breath, ask them what is the most important point they want you to hear. After their reply, clarify their response and then ask a second question: “Would you listen to my main concern as well?”
When typing this out, it looks simplistic and a little corny; but it is alarming how many levels of discord occur when rants are indulged endlessly. There’ve been a few times when the tension was so high (happened to be on the phone), that I asked to call them back in 10 minutes to resume conversation. Punctuation of thought and a request for permission can help with rebuilding hopes for allegiance. It can advance comprehension of either sides point.
What helps make heated conversations or disagreements more productive in your view? And in the meantime, peace be with you!
For fun with disagreements: 100 second video story
In the spirit of disagreements, I just discovered a beef I have with good ole Mark Twain of yonder year. He was once quoted as saying “the ugliest building in America was the Old Executive Office Building” in Washington, DC. Well I couldn’t disagree more, with some more fun assertion in the above clip.