At a recent workshop I gave, I was invited to stay after for the group’s potluck Thanksgiving meal.
A strikingly good-looking young man came up to speak to me as I was standing in line, talking with others around me. I, of course, instinctively extended my hand to engage him in a handshake like you do. He took a step back and clasped his hands at his belly.
“Do you mind if I don’t touch you?” he asked simply and clearly.
At first I though this was going to be one of those “I have a cold things.”
He went on to say…”for religious reasons.” I couldn’t hide the moment of searching and complexity on my face, so he graciously, I think tried to follow up with a joke…”My wife is extremely jealous and she wouldn’t like it.”
The reason for his approach was that he wanted to talk to me about how he’d been trying to workshop his own storytelling material in stand-up comedy clubs all over town and wasn’t having much success.
As we stood there, inching our way up toward a great smelling meal, here are some things that went through my head…
Evolution has left you behind, buddy. You and your kind are the vestigial tails of society.
These Mike Pence-sycophants are going to run us all into the ground.
That food smells amazing.
Gosh, this skirt is tight. How much will I be able to eat?
Why am I being so judgy?
Is that a yarmulke on the back of his head? Oh, wait! He’s an orthodox Jew. Now his refusal shake my hand seems more justified.
Wait, why is that better to me?
Note: I have these three inner personalities, Gabby, Flabby, & Crabby. Well, as we stood there, with the food seemingly not getting any closer, Flabby & Crabby were duking it out for who was going to be Queen for the Day. Gabby was definitely on the sidelines.
Here’s the thing. I had just wrapped up a workshop that included a module about deep listening, how crucial it is to our storytelling, how multitasking and multi-tab browsing is destroying our ability to listen deeply, how the second best thing we can do for ourselves as storytellers and humans, after practicing appropriate vulnerability, is to become better listeners.
One of the things I set out to do when I started this practice a year ago was to help bridge difference. Some people were so surprised by the presidential election because, as we know, many of us operate in–choose your metaphor: silos, vacuums, echo chambers–and no longer have opportunity to interact on a regular basis with people who are truly different from us.
I don’t think I’ve yet fulfilled my mission, either on a personal or professional basis, to help people hear each others’ stories across difference. I’m going to make that a part of my 2018 resolutions.
So here’s a different metaphor to ponder. In its exterior & interior structures, the human eardrum has repeating motifs based on the Fibonacci sequence. If you’re unfamiliar, this math phenomenon of spiraling outward/exponential growth pops up all over the natural world, from the Chambered nautilus to hurricanes.
The human ear therefore could be viewed as the most radical change-maker via its universal design. We could use it to evolve, abandon the atrophied practices of exclusion and talking through each other.
1+1=2, 1+2=3, 2+3=5, 3+5=8
which turns into
1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144 …
xn = xn-1 + xn-2
If one conversation helps us bridge one line of difference, and then we are able to listen to a few others with more patience and empathy, by turns we marinate in understanding and appreciation of our own journeys and how we relate to the world, which leads us to seek out more people, more stories, more deep listening, more differences, more understanding…
Spiraling outward. Exponential growth. 1 + 1 = 2.