Other Stories

Many of you know that I keep a journal. I started journaling in high school because of the example of a dear friend. He went on to become an architect, but even in high school he would draw and sketch in his “book” alongside notes and lists. He once told me that he wrote anything and everything in his book because one day he might find that his shopping list was actually more important than his “deep” thoughts.

Early on, my books were blank page journals covered in wild papers and fabrics. I have one covered with fuzzy Dalmatian spots and others with patterns that invoke vertigo. At some point, I migrated to plain black Moleskin journals (still blank pages), and currently I fill two or three a year. I like the freedom of not having lines. It allows me to draw, create flow in notes, and paste things into my book. I don’t write every day, nor is it a diary. It is just a place to keep things, thoughts, ideas, notes, ticket stubs, a sticker or a label. The act of writing or putting something into the book cements it into my memory.

I always write with my LAMY fountain pen. The flow of ink and the rawness of the nib on the paper are also tactile parts of the process for me. I encourage you to try it. It changed the way I processed and collected my thoughts and has led to many things that have been positive for me.

Over the last two weeks, these things have been in my book…

Notes from a sermon about “Sticks and Stones” where the main point was to be careful and intentional about what we say because our words are powerful and have consequences. Of particular interest to me (I know this because I circled it and drew pictures around it) was the need to speak with purpose, that purpose being helping and building others up.

A few days later I wrote this in my book: “Musing: putting our motivations onto others and assuming that their actions mean what it would if we did that.”

Then recently, our executive leadership team had the privilege of spending two hours (via zoom) with AmyK, a communication specialist with over 20 years of experience coaching and working with fortune 500 level companies all over the world. She told us to remember that there is more than one conversation in every conversation and to acknowledge that there is a story in our head about things.

In the Bible, when something is repeated three times you are supposed to pay special attention to it. In my life, when ideas are repeated by different sources, I tend to focus a little more on them to see what I should be learning.

I am not naturally empathetic; I have to work at it. I have to be intentional about asking the question, “What is this like for the other person?” Or, “How is what I am doing or saying going to make the other person feel?” The fact that something is not easy is not a reasonable excuse to not do it. Much of the time, it is my ego that is getting in the way of my ability to show empathy to others. I trip over what can be called “ego hooks.” 

An ego hook is when my story interferes with my ability to hear and understand someone else’s. Sometimes, it is about my identity being threatened if someone else is right and I am not. Sometimes, it is about me being so wrapped up in my story that I ignore the other stories around me. This isn’t something I do on purpose, but the solution must be intentional. 

“Imago” is Latin for “image.” It is also the final and fully developed adult stage of a typically winged insect in entomology. For this musing though, it is also the name of a mode of therapy and way to have conversations that have the potential to turn conflict into opportunities for growth. In its simplest form, the Imago Dialogue has three parts: mirror, validate, and empathize.

In mirroring, we attempt to restate what the other person has said or what we imagine they might be thinking or feeling. In a conversation, this would be me repeating in my own words what the other person is communicating. In non-conversational situations, I could just think through what the other person’s story might be or how they might be feeling. 

Validating involves checking with the other person to see if I got the first part right. This requires interaction, whether it started as a conversation or not. I cannot fully get to the next part if I don’t get the first part right. The important thing is that the other person feels that I understand.

Then I can finally reach empathy. Now that I know what the other person is saying or experiencing and they know that I get it, I can truly empathize. This is where I can say that I imagine what they might be feeling or how something felt. 

This is where I can truly understand someone else’s story without getting caught up in my own ego. Another person’s story doesn’t diminish me at all. Another person’s story doesn’t mean they are right and I am wrong. Another person’s story is just that—their story.

Over the years, my journal has served as a reminder of how often and how much my own story has changed. It is a tangible record of all the times I was sure I was right, only to change my mind and my story later. Knowing this helps me to accept other people at whatever point they are in developing their story.

We are all in various stages of a journey that continues to develop our personal story. When I make an effort to see each person as valuable and unique, I can appreciate their story as valuable and unique too. Paying attention to other stories shows that I care about the people I serve with and do life with, and it is The Kimray Way.