What's Your Story?

Biz Narrative Blog by Ruth Halpern

Observations and anecdotes about business narrative in the corporate world.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Get inside the life of an outsider

One of my goals in delivering diversity training is to help participants develop understanding for the world-views of people from different backgrounds than their own. This is hard work: you have to want to do it, because it takes energy, empathy, openness, and patience.

This year, one way to expand your awareness of diversity is to go to the movies. Rarely have movie-goers had a chance to feel life outside the mainstream as strongly and viscerally as they do in the movie "Precious: Based on the novel 'Push' by Sapphire." Precious Jones is a quintuple outsider: African-American, female, a teenage mother, an incest survivor, and obese. She is also a deeply feeling, strong character, who we quickly come to identify with, root for, and love. For her, an "ordinary day" is fraught with threats and dangers--harassment, humiliation, physical and sexual assault--that many of us have never had to contend with, yet we follow her because she pushes forward with persistence, sass, and a powerful imagination. This is why storytellers say that "you can never hate a person once you know her story."

This movie is a gift: an opportunity to inhabit a world that, while it may seem foreign in some respects, is as passion-filled and worthy of respect as any that has been portrayed in more "mainstream" movies.

I emerged from it shaken, and enlightened.

What more could a diversity trainer ask for?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

When the facts defy our beliefs

This week, NPR aired the story of Brian Korbon, a 9 year old boy who, it appears, knew he was going to die shortly before he did. The story was recorded at a Storycorps booth, which is part of a national project to record people's stories about friends and family, nationwide.

In addition to being a powerful, loving tale of a vibrant boy and his parents' loss, I find myself pondering this statement: The father, Gregg Korbon, says, "It wasn't in my belief system that something like that could happen."

There he was, an anesthesiologist, watching his son gather his possessions, write goodbye notes to his friends, and announce that he "wasn't going to see double-digits" (meaning wasn't going to live till he was 10), but the father couldn't HEAR this.

The father's belief system did not allow for the possibility of losing his beloved child, never mind that the son might know that this was going to happen.

This story gives me shivers for so many reasons: The boy's foreknowledge, the mother and father being forced to accept the son's wisdom about his imminent departure, and most of all, the reminder that this story gives all of us: There are realities that all of us are unable to see because they don't fit into our belief systems.

How does this play out on an organizational level? What realities are invisible because they don't fit into our organizational vision of what is possible? Attainable? Real?

How vital it is that we listen, pay attention to the facts, try to see past the filter of our beliefs to what is possible--and real.