This blogThis blog is called A Few Kind Words because the word kindness originally meant being kin, or kindred, or of the same kind. And since we are all humankind, we should remember to be kinder to one another when we communicate. The alternative is to be unkind, to use language which fails to connect or even alienates. The choice isn't hard.
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Next week it’s time again for the annual Dark Angels expedition to Aracena, the small hill town in Andalucia where John Simmons, Stuart Delves and I take a party of students on our Advanced Creative Writing in Business course. For the first time in six years I won’t be there. I’m going back to India instead. But I’ll think enviously of the sweet figs on the tree by the poolhouse, the dawn mist in the valley and sunrise over the hills, the conversations in the courtyard and dinners on the terrace. I’ll miss the sense of companionship that blossoms over those four days, the moments of personal revelation and creative insight.
And I’ll miss the stories. The course begins with the opening words of one of the most famous stories of all time: ‘En un lugar de La Mancha, de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme …’ ‘In a place in La Mancha, whose name I don’t care to remember …’ Don Quixote. It continues with stories written down in daylight and stories told over glasses of wine after dark.
I will be hearing stories in India, although of a rather different kind. With my colleague Paul Pinson I’m running a storytelling workshop for senior leaders from eight of India’s largest companies. What do stories mean to business? How do they work? Where do you tell them? These are the questions we’ll be posing and the simple answers are: everything, effortlessly and everywhere.
We’ll be explaining to our students how the stories we tell about ourselves and our organisations are the very warp and weft of our existences; how they’re the frameworks that hold us together and keep us upright; and how without them we are without structure or identity. And we’ll be impressing on them the importance of listening to the stories other people are telling about them, customers, colleagues, employees.
As I write this, the story of the Welsh mining accident is unfolding. We have just heard the news – unspeakable, intolerable for the four families – that they’ve found one body but that they can’t yet identify it. This story, that has come out of the blue to engulf those four families and the communities they belong to, will shape lives for generations.
Stories – the retelling and interpretation of events – have that power. Even the seemingly trivial can change individual destinies. The really big stories can shape nations. I think of Scotland, reaching for a new identity but still struggling to shrug off that old story of defeat, clearance, emigration, sectarianism, industrial decline and dependency.
We all have many stories. Knowing which is the right one to believe in at any given moment is not always so easy.