Bill Moyers recently hosted a conversation on his PBS program with Parker Palmer, author of “The Courage to Teach”, and “A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life.” Palmer was describing how the Obama campaign engaged people, the electorate, in telling stories, and in thinking about the possibilities of his campaign. It was, Palmer said, the first campaign where he didn’t feel that the candidate was being “sold” to him. “I was not asked, to buy a presidential candidate as a commodity in a consumer culture… It asked me to tell a story.”
I’m interested in the use of stories in organizations and communities to discuss values, visioning, and determining impact. For example, employees’ stories that can tell us about the values of the company, and how they fit with the individual; stories that reveal people’s hopes and aspirations; client stories about the impact that an organization’s services have had on them. Stories about hopes and dreams take us beyond the “actual”, they give us access to the right-brain and to our emotions, and they generate energy for future actions. So I was struck by the Telling of Stories, and the Questions about Possibility, that the Obama campaign asked people.
I’ve edited the questions slightly to serve a broader purpose:
* What are the hopes that bring you to this occasion, to the possibility that… this long-shot candidate might represent your interests and might actually get elected?
…that this new program or initiative will work?
… that we can work better together?
* What do you see going on in this moment that makes you think we have a chance to pursue some of the hopes that you’ve named in those earlier stories?
* Whose am I? (What group do I affiliate with?) What do you mean when you say “we”?
* How do you see your own story relating to the stories of other people you know, and to the larger American story that’s going on right now?
To me, these questions connect people to an entity larger than themselves – a campaign, the larger American story, and the historic moment. They offer healing for the past, just by sharing people hurts and disappointments – I don’t think we’ve ever seen that before in political discourse. These are powerful questions, and they offer hope for the future.
Where else can we use the telling of stories to help people create a sense of future possibilities? How could we adopt these questions to work in another context?