Relationships are based on shared experience and knowledge of others. Strong relationships (good or bad) are so because we know a lot about each other.
So, just a question worth pondering occasionally:
How much do my students and colleagues know about me? Too much? Too little? Or just the right amount?
“When an old person dies, a library burns to the ground.”
Old African proverb
By the time your children or your students are in high school, they will have clocked up nearly 100,000 waking hours of experience. And by the time we’re 40, we have about a quarter of a million waking hours under our belt.
Somehow our incredible brain has the capability to synthesise thousands and thousands of hours of experience containing millions of unique events and piece it all together into a coherent narrative.
We don’t think about ‘our life’ as a list of sequential events. But rather, we synonymise our life with our story.
So what a shame it is, that in the rush of our modern, campfireless life, we give ourselves such limited opportunity to make sense of and to share our stories.
And I wonder how many of our students feel like they are a secondary character in someone else’s story?
As filmmaker Rick Stevenson, a man who has interviewed over 5,500 kids, says: “There is no higher calling than to help our kids fully understand their stories and to learn how to use them…There is an empowerment that comes when kids realise that they are writing their own biography – in real time.”
With this realisation comes a shift in perspective. When we realise that life is about writing our own story, we are compelled to ask: “What story do I want to write?”
It’s hard to think of two more profound, powerful questions to explore with a child than: “What is your story?” and “What story do you want to write?“
Our brain really has two fundamental purposes. First, it is a life-preservation device, finely tuned over millennia to identify threats and opportunities that may harm us or enable us and our species to thrive. Second, it is a story-telling machine. It takes in a tiny fraction of reality through our senses and cobbles it all together in the form of a linear narrative that, for the most part, ‘feels’ real. Without this personalised narrative, our lives would lack any sense of continuity and meaning.
Mostly, this narrative helps us navigate through life productively – which is great. Super helpful. But sometimes, the story we tell ourselves creates a bias or blindness that hinders us.
In one conversation I was having with a teacher last week, I couldn’t help notice the overly-certain way that he was describing different elements within his school: “We tried that but nobody _______“; “Everyone wants _______ to happen but management don’t believe in it”; “I know ______ works in other schools but there’s no way it would work with our staff”.
Now, those statements could be true – although it’s pretty unlikely given how generalised and extreme they are. These are the kind of extreme generalisations that are unhelpful in the workplace. Not only do they belie the complexity of organisational communities but they create a myopic lens that closes down possibilities.
And we’re all guilty of this form of bias – to some extent – from time to time. So the next time you’re in meeting with “the guy who never _______” or you have to go to and speak to “that lady who always ________“, try to catch yourself, take a breath and remind yourself that this is just a story you’re telling. It might be true. But there’s a chance that you are closing an opportunity to really engage with a new moment.