“I want you to travel with me to a famine camp in Sudan on the Ethiopian border.” This sentence begins a compelling story told by my daughter’s journalism professor and Pulitzer Prize winner for her series “Aids in the Heartland,” Jacqui Banaszynski.
In her piece called “Stories Matter,” Jacqui describes an experience she had as a journalist in a camp in Sudan. In this camp, over 100,000 people had come because they heard there was water, yet by the time they arrived the river bed was dry.
She talks about how at least seventy-five people were buried each day, mostly children. Then, at night, despite the dark sadness, she heard singing.
Surprised, she found several translators who told her that the singing was the people’s version of story-telling. It was their attempt to hold onto their rituals, and carry their history and culture no matter how dire the circumstances. Can you imagine that amidst the starvation and loss, these people held onto their stories?
Stories are both catalysts and glue, propelling us forward and holding together what we know to be true. Katherine Lanpher says that “Stories are the connective tissue of the human race.”
I think that Corporate America has replaced important stories with dull initiatives. I think we’ve white-washed our stories into Vision Statements that induce yawns rather than singing.
Leaders need to help their teams create a story that tells from where the company came, where it is today, and where they’d like to lead it. They need to ask people about their stories at home, and determine how personal stories can positively or negatively impact work stories.
If we could find our stories in a business setting, perhaps it would make some of the hard work worth it. We would know our greater meaning . . . our larger message. We could build around a truth rather than react to a series of demands.
As Jacqui says: “Stories are our soul. Write and edit and tell yours with your whole selves. Tell them as if they are all that matters. It matters that you do it as if that’s all there is.”
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