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Story Beats Monologue

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Why, again, do we elevate didactic talking points?

I hear “story” a lot these days.

Clients are looking for stories because stories show how something—their product, for instance—works in real life. A story is engaging. There is some tension in a story. There is a human factor in a story—we get to know some character. There is specificity that perks our attention. This is all story stuff.

We must work to help the story emerge

We must work to help the story emerge

Students like stories because they put a concept together into an easily digestible form.

In some ways it seems like nearly anything put in story form gets attention. Even over at Dumb Sketch Daily people comment that they are curious about stories behind the various dumb sketches appearing there. And if there is no story, the reader makes one up. It’s nearly an involuntary response. Our minds are made to put things together, to look for the connections and to make things fit. We find stories where none should exist: I’m remembering one daughter who named each bag of leaves in the back of the van and told stories about them—even as we drove the newly-named leaf bags to the compost heap.

In the race to get heard, story is a form we are all searching for. Story is irresistible. Sermons and monologues induce sleep. Story wakes. Story compels.

So why is it, again, that we elevate facts and principles and dry argument to such a high place? We think intellect beats emotion. But how much better if emotion and intellect are joined?

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Image Credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

September 28, 2015 at 9:03 am

5 Ideas that Will Change How You Talk Today

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3 Philosophers, a Rhetorician and a Social Media Expert walk into a bar…

Since writing ListenTalk, I’ve continued to hear these voices echoing in my conversations at work, at home, at church, in the street, at the curling club (I made that up. I don’t curl. Nor do I hurl.).

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Here’s what these voices say:

  • We have responsibility for others. That’s why we greet people and learn names and acknowledge presence. Our responsibility can do deeper—or not. But it is there from first sight and we all know it. (Emmanuel Levinas)
  • People are not objects. So when we treat people as objects, we devalue them and strip ourselves of excellent relational opportunities. People becoming objects can happen in the workplace: it can happen when the CEO looks down on the vast army of minions. It can happen in the home. But it shouldn’t and we do well to defy this narcissistic pull. (Martin Buber)
  • Words have incredible power. We can say things and, behold, it is so. Like pronouncing a marriage. Or deciding on a goal. This may not seem so, given the river of words we issue, the mundane, seemingly meaningless conversations that make up 99% of any particular day. Despite the great volume of words avalanching through our lives, they do—at times—hold incredible power. That’s why we hang on the last words of a dying person. That’s why we want to hear the words behind our favorite writer—we want to hear them explain how their story or argument came about. You can probably recount a handful of life-changing words right now, words someone spoke to you at just the right time. (JL Austin and John Searle)
  • Our best talk comes when we’re not out to win a conversation. Humans are persuasive beings—we’re constantly trying to convince each other of things. But our best thinking and talk comes when we listen as well. And our worst conversations look like monologue—when someone preaches at us without listening. Those also tend to be short conversations. (Wayne Booth)
  • Say what you will. Unless you live in North Korea or Russia, you generally have the capacity to say what you want. Yes, the current Facebook effect seems to be to say only what our tribe wants to hear, but we can find and build new tribes using social media. This is very important, because the old institutional voices are veering from truth more and more frequently. We need those new voices. We need your voice. (Clay Shirky)

Do you see how any one of those five ideas might impact your conversations today?

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

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