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Listen for the deeper story

“I was born in Ajdabiya, I live in Ajdabiya, I will die in Ajdabiya”, he says, as he takes a brief respite from protecting his Libyan home town in April 2011.

“I’m actually 20 years old”, he adds, with a grin, “because you need to subtract Gaddafi’s 42 years in power. Even the grey hairs I got from Gaddafi are gone.”

Change brings stories; stories describe change; and your Zahmoo story-bank helps you capture those stories, and keep them for future generations, future learning.

Yet at Zahmoo we’ve noticed that people will sometimes talk about narrative and story as if there’s only ever the one Big Story there, a single thread of meaning carried by the words that some person says. In reality, there are many different threads of meaning within every narrative: and usually there’ll be many, many small stories – often intensely personal, and often almost impossible to express in words – that underpin the Big Story that we see on the surface. For Haj Raba Mohammed, in that photograph above, it’s clear that those forty-two years provided all too many small, painful, unsaid stories…

At times it’s those subtler threads – the ‘stories without words’ – that carry the most meaning. Yet when there’s a lot of action going on, it’s all too easy to miss these subtler stories – and miss the whole point of what’s happening. Here’s a poignant example from a comment on an Al Jazeera weblog about that Libyan rebellion, immediately after the Tripoli uprising on 21 August 2011:

A few hours ago, a news reporter said the TV station had an eyewitness to interview and said he understood the man wanted to remain anonymous. The man then spoke, saying he would give his name because he was no longer afraid. And he began spelling out his name, enunciating each letter deliberately. The news man became a bit impatient and cut him off before he finished, asking him what he was seeing at the moment. The man then told what was going on in his vicinity. The news man, intent on the action in the streets, seemed to miss the most important detail: A Libyan man spoke his name freely in public, to the world, before describing the reality in front of him.

We’re fortunate indeed if we never have to face that kind of social strife. Yet whenever we work with narrative in our everyday world, with community, family or business – and especially so whenever there’s a big change going on – we do need to watch the context, and listen carefully for the real story behind the story: it isn’t always in the words alone.

Image credit: I’m 20 Years Old by Al Jazeera English under a Creative Commons BY-SA-2.0 licence.

October 14th, 2012 by Zahmoo
Filed in: For Business, For Community, For Family
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