Value-As Storytelling

July 20, 2011 Leave a comment

|Photo by umjanedoan||

In our Whole Measures workshop, we come to a point when participants realize that the promise of learning how to “measure what matters most” is not a case of digesting “best practices.”  This is often a difficult moment, one fraught with frustration, but also the beginnings of insight (or a reminder) that we are each part of a gradual unfolding that is unique depending upon our particular context, and that to simply embrace some kind of cookie-cutter method of measuring health and wholeness is futile.  This is so, in part, because before we measure what matters most, we must determine what matters most, and this changes from system to system.  Furthermore, it is no easy task of discernment.  Often people are good at setting goals, or talking abstractly about “values,” but this does not always equate with getting to heart of what is most meaningful to us, as demonstrated by the lives we actually live or our hearts’ deepest desires.  One of the best processes we’ve found for doing this is to embrace storytelling.

The following is a technique that was given by Roberto Chené to my colleague Mistinguette Smith and others at the Center for Whole Communities, and Mistinguette has in turn passed it along to me.  It has proven to be one of the most powerful experiences that participants have in our Whole Measures workshop.  I have added a bit of a twist to it:

  1. Divide the group into pairs.  Often it works best if the person facilitating chooses the pairs, so no one is paralyzed about with whom they should pair off.
  2. Once everyone is with a partner, tell them that they will be telling each other their life story, in 7 minutes each.  The only rules are that the person listening must listen as intently as they can and make as little noise as possible (no reassurances, no interruptions, and no questions). Tell pairs they should choose who will go first (Person A), then let them know when to start.
  3. NOTE: Sometimes people are inclined to tell their entire life story in 7 minutes (I tried this the first time I participated).  This is not the point.  Rather, with time being relatively short, the invitation is to speak to what is most essential.  This can come in the form of a single moment in time, or a few different snippets of one’s biography.  The assumption here is that we speak to what is most important to us.
  4. When 7 minutes are up, have them switch partners so that Person B is now speaking.
  5. When those 7 minutes are up, tell them Person B in each pair should now speak for 3 minutes about Person A’s values, derived from the story that was told.
  6. After 3 minutes, have them switch so that Person A now talks about Person B’s values for 3 minutes.
  7. For the third and final round, invite Person A to take 2 minutes to talk about his or her own values.
  8. Then have Person B take 2 minutes to talk to Person A about her or his own strengths.
  9. Bring the full group back together and ask them what they noticed? How did it feel?
  10. NOTE: This exercise is designed to both build connection through un-interactive listening and to show how values often come through most clearly in story.  We may or may not explicitly name them, though they will often come out.

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  • Gibrán says:

    Thanks for the exercise tip Curtis – I’m liking it, and can’t wait to try it. What happens next? Meaning, in a process of seeking to understand what we value before we measure it, I imagine a debrief helps us learn what are the values present in the room – are there story based ways to move towards some form of convergence around shared values?

  • Curtis says:

    Great question, G. There are a number of ways to take this. We could certainly have people share the values they heard and look for commonalities. We could also borrow from that JumpStart storytelling method, where people tell stories in small groups and then move around a few times, World Cafe style. Then ask people to put hands on the shoulder of the storyteller with whom they most resonated. Have the “hubs” with the most number of hands on them step forward and tell their stories and invite the group to name the values they hold. Another way of getting at convergence. I also see this as warm-up for a community or organization to engage in a larger endeavor like the Story of Place (see the Regenesis Group) or Heart and Soul (see the Orton Family Foundation). Curious to hear your thoughts and others’.

  • Sophia Logan says:

    Everyone may have their opinion about this issue, but remember that we must remain optimistic to solve the problem. With Shared Eyesight, We Work Collectively for Future Success.

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