“Accounts of what happened depend upon the perspective from which the event is viewed.”
William Kent Krueger is a favorite author of mine. In 2013, I read his book Ordinary Grace. Here’s what the protagonist says at the end of the novel:
“I’m a teacher of history…and what I know from my studies and from my life is that there is no such thing as a true event. We know dates and times and locations and participants but accounts of what happened depend upon the perspective from which the event is viewed.
“I’m aware that [my brother] and my father recall things I don’t and what we remember together we often remember differently. I’m sure that each of us has memories that for reasons of our own we don’t share. Some things we prefer remain lost in the shadows of our past.”
First, that quote makes me think of donors and their experiences with organizations. Each donor experiences your organization differently—from her own vantage point, with his own personal lens. Each donor comes to your organization because of different events in his or her life, with a different perspective because of events in that life.
Each donor describes your organization differently, based on experience and the accumulation of events in life. Each donor experiences life differently because of race/ethnicity, gender and generation, sexual orientation and gender identity, socioeconomic status, faith, and physical ability.
The stories you tell. The stories I tell. The stories others tell. The way you and I and they observe events and relate to icons and interpret experiences. The same events with different stories. The same results with different perceived impact. The experiences your donors share but interpret differently. The remembrances of times past and present, witnessed differently, explained differently, sometimes shared and sometimes not.
I remember the U.S.’s Vietnam War differently than my brother does. Yet we lived in the same home at that same time, with the same family members. And when I wrote my memory of that time—that war, that experience – it included my brother.
I showed him what I’d written. And he corrected some of my statements in the part that was his, and about him.
I hadn’t remembered it that way. And his view about what happened to him was, undoubtedly, correct. He faced the draft. I did not.
But in some ways, it doesn’t matter that I remembered differently. Because the memory—whether accurate or not—has helped define my life, planned my path.
’Nam was a seminal experience in my life. An introduction to a level of anger that I would know more about later.
Just imagine: There is no such thing as a true event.
“…Accounts of what happened depend upon the perspective from which the event is viewed.”
Life happens through stories
One of my most treasured quotes comes from The Angel Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón: “Everything is a tale. What we believe, what we know. What we remember, even what we dream. Everything is a story, a narrative, a sequence of events with characters communicating an emotional content. We only accept as true what can be narrated.”
Stories describe our lives and our families, our experiences and our feelings, the events of our lives and our history. Stories might be written—but certainly not always. Before writing, stories were told orally, from generation to generation. What are cave drawings but stories.
Movies tell stories. And novels, too. Songs tell stories, and rock ’n’ roll was the soundtrack to the ’60s and ’70s. Fables and poems tell stories. Documentaries do. A face tells a story, so does a sound. Shakespeare’s stories are told over and over—even as West Side Story.
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People learn through stories
Through experience and research, we know that people learn better through stories than facts and statistics. Whether it’s family history or the culture of Apple. Whether it’s a case for support for a cause or the story of the donor who supported that cause.
Consider this insight.
“A need to tell and hear stories is essential to the species Homo sapiens—second in necessity apparently after nourishment and before love and shelter. Millions survive without love or home, almost none in silence; the opposite of silence leads quickly to narrative, and the sound of story is the dominant sound of our lives, from the small accounts of our day’s events to the vast incommunicable constructs of psychopaths.” (Reynolds Price, A Palpable God, 1978)
Apparently, we need stories to survive. Upon reflection, I suspect that is no surprise.
I read novels to relax, to inspire myself, to amuse myself. When I speak—and I do, a lot—I illustrate with stories.
I collect quotations—about life and love, social justice and business. And for each quotation, I hear a story in my mind and heart.
What about you?
What role do stories play in your personal life and your family history? What stories do you treasure—and tell others—about friends and loved ones?
What about your organization? Is it a storytelling center? Do your staff colleagues and board members collect stories and retell them? Is your particular cause actually a movement, like Planned Parenthood is, or women’s rights? A movement with stories that pass through generations?
Do you have a file of donor stories to share with each new employee? How about a file of client stories?
Does your organization have a founding story? Or stories about seminal moments in the organization’s evolution and change?
Does your board ever start its meeting with a story? Maybe a five-minute story by a client, sitting right there with you. Maybe a story by a long-time board member, sharing a piece of the past. Maybe a story by a new board member explaining why she joined.
I hope your donors and clients tell stories in your annual report, on your website, at your public gatherings.
I hope staff and board members tell stories in those same places about how it feels to work in your organization. And why the cause matters.
All are stories. Not facts and figures. Not some business prospectus.
Human interest stories. Heartfelt and happy stories. Angry stories.
Stories. Over and over.
I challenge you. Right now.
Post a great story in the comment section here at NPQ. Maybe it’s a YouTube story, visual and oral. Or visual only. Maybe it’s a story in an e-news article and you can post the link.
Here are a couple recent stories that I thought were just magnificent!
- A story (oral and visual) about trust, from Cirque du Soleil
- A multilayered story…within the song, in the visuals. What do you hear and see?
- And how about this wonderful video from the Cleveland Clinic…the stories suggested, the empathy engaged?