Change is inevitable, and most of us say we like it and embrace it. But, truth be told, we really don’t. It was Einstein who observed that “the significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” So, asking the right questions is vital to our future, and that requires reframing and rethinking. Given the speed of change today, it may be that the ability to reframe and rethink, when honed, provides us with the greatest opportunity to wrestle successfully with ambiguity, paradoxes, uncertainty, and those things that, by design or default, divide us.
Stories often do this for us and can be a powerful mechanism for getting a new angle on a problem, which reminds me of what happens when I read a particular story to my grandchildren — the one they never tire of hearing. When it is bedtime and I select a new book from the shelf, it is never the right one. No matter how cogent my argument for reading it may be (essentially, I am on the lookout to escape boredom), the children insist, “No! Read hat book!”
The hat book, Jon Klassen’s We Found a Hat, tells the age-old tale of two turtles who happen on a cowboy hat in the desert. Once, while reading this book (for the 1,000th time), I started to read sentences, stop suddenly, and point at words randomly for the kids to complete. The children squealed with delight and pride as they completed each sentence, filling in the words hat and dream along with others in the appropriate places. They knew these words because the storytelling had emblazoned them into their memories. These words, which arrive unconsciously, are now a part of their vocabulary!
But I digress and must return to Jon Klassen’s story. The hat looks good on both turtles, but the conundrum is there is only one hat. This children’s book reminds us that scarcity, or the perception of scarcity, can lead to drama. At its core, the story is about a conflict that causes turmoil and the ability of the two turtles to find a resolution. It also highlights the power of team thinking and the power of collective wisdom.
Yes — teams. There is no one person who knows it all. Research on team survival exercises shows that teams outperform individuals close to 98 percent of the time.
Life, as we know, is a series of adjustments. Nature itself embodies the coming together of opposing forces: wind, water, fire, and changes in the ecosystem. Yet, as we always seem disturbed when conflict arises, it can help to remember that there are basically four forms of conflict.
- Competitive, win-lose, is the form most acceptably ascribed to in our society. This form of conflict has the power to strengthen cohesiveness or cause us to attack and destroy others to win.
- Disruptive, associated with angry feelings, is also win-lose. This is where rationalization, accusation, mislabeling, scapegoating, and blame are often used.
- Constructive, sometimes referred to as win-win, could also take the form of consensus-based dialogue.
- Restrictive, the form that focuses on as few differences as possible, may simply mean ignoring differences.
Dhruv Khullar, a physician communicator who spoke recently at the second annual T.H.I.N.K Academy in North Carolina, focused on overcoming challenges and the importance of storytelling and narratives. He stated that whether one is a researcher communicating about science, an educator, a clinician, or a community organizer, it is important to tell stories, good or bad, in this order:
- Tell the story of you. Why are you called to a particular issue?
- Tell the story of us. How do your interests, values, and research (or whatever you are doing) connect to the experiences of those around you?
- Tell the story of now. What makes the challenge you’re addressing urgent?
- Remember, there should be no stories without statistics, and no statistics without stories.
You know, some things are better caught than taught. So think about the words you use and the words that stick. Negative thoughts and callous words that cause pain, grief, and even the sense of not being viewed as a legitimate member of humanity hit our brains instantly like Velcro. They stick like houseguests who have overstayed their welcome.
A sure way to get the ones you want to stick to do so is to make the “I” in your story “we,” so the entire community can come together and unite behind your experiences and the ideas they embody. In other words, forget ego; resist becoming angry, which makes us selfish; hit the reset button; and change how you think! Keep asking yourself, does insight bring change or does change bring insight? Storytelling can provide insight. If we change how we frame issues and approach problems, perhaps we can nurture as well as surface significant insights, and those insights will help bring about change.