by Hillary Strobel | Featured Contributor
Stories can open windows into another world. While we sit comfortably in our slippers, drinking our morning tea, we can step into the lives and experiences of someone across the world, in circumstances far afield from our own. It’s reliably proven that stories develop empathy in the listener. It’s well-documented that the storyteller benefits as well from the catharsis of sharing.
Now, think of the stories you tell yourself, about yourself. How much empathy do you develop for you?
I found myself in an amazing place last week, as I told myself a story in front of witnesses. They were there to listen, with absolute respect, and then to mirror back to me using images and body feelings, what they heard me say. The ending transformative result- not at all what I was expecting- was nothing short of life-changing.
We very often see the value in others before we turn the lens around to see the value in ourselves. There is plenty that is good about this; the feminist approach to transformative storytelling makes a personal connection to others by hearing them out, and then puts that data into action.
A Transformative Experience
I know this applies to me just as much as anybody. I often tell myself that I’m doing fine, I’m getting along pretty well, my daughter is happy and healthy, and everything is as good as could be hoped for. But I don’t often just deeply, profoundly listen, to the stories that live in the gaps and cracks between the things I accomplish on a daily basis and the hopes and dreams I have for the future.
Those stories that live in the gaps, when listening to them deeply and profoundly, are the transformative ones for each and every one of us. What we really need are the people around us who are not only listening to them, as surrogates for ourselves, but are also mirroring them back to us.
Here’s an example, from my own experience last week. I was presenting a project I wanted to work on. I felt at the time that it would be fun and definitely contributing something important to the world. But as I talked about the resources I would need and the steps I would need to take, the people listening came back to me with something I didn’t expect: that my story was unsettling.
It was clear to them that my heart was in the right place, which is the story I tell myself all the time when I say that everything is as good as could be hoped for. I tell myself that I’m doing what I believe in and that my contribution matters.
While my heart was right was in the right place, it was being applied in the wrong direction. This is what the people listening helped me to understand by profoundly listening and mirroring my story back to me. They were not casting judgement, nor were they there to be coaches who give advice. They were there mainly to be profound listeners, who then responded to me with the images that were conjured in their minds and bodies while listening.
In the end, it became clear that this project wasn’t going to serve any bigger purpose, for myself or the people I was trying to help. I potentially could have come to the same conclusion, a year or two or three from now, when I was already burned out and frustrated. Now I can count the blessings of all that time, effort, and energy saved, to be directed into an entirely different outcome.
Some Final Thoughts
Having more of these types of listening experiences will be transformative for all of us, not just in the way we relate and respond to others, but to ourselves as well. It’s an old saw to say that we need to take care of ourselves in order to be able to take care of others. It’s less well traveled territory to say we need to listen to ourselves- with the aid of these profound listeners- more often as well.
The results will probably stun us. And they probably should.
Hillary Strobel is a single mother, fierce learner and teacher, ardent lover of life, and the ass-kickin’ President and CEO of The Flyways, Inc. We publish story projects that are interactive and highly creative, and 25% of profits are donated to support social justice causes: from business incubators serving vulnerable women, to agencies working to reduce recidivism rates.
Hillary also runs a consultancy for businesses and organizations seeking to meaningfully build social impact programs from the ground up. The three pillars that support this mission are: designing outcomes and developing goals, measuring impact and creating a universal metric, and quantifying results to the public.
After a long and varied career in just about every kind of Liberal Arts field imaginable, and in every type of job — volunteer, employee, entrepreneur, non-profit worker, and freelancer — Hillary has decided to marry her two deepest passions: storytelling and social justice. The results have surpassed her wildest expectations.