What I Learned from an Angry Old Hunter

On story-listening, othering, and finding common ground

As he spoke, it was clear that he was coming from a place of passion and anger, but more importantly, a place of grief for what he had lost over the past 40 years of hunting and farming.

He had watched the decline of many of our native birds over the years, and had witnessed hunting dogs who had consumed 1080 writing in their final death throes. He had seen livelihoods affected as families who relied on hunting deer for a source of sustenance experienced a decline in deer numbers after a 1080 drop.

By identifying common threads in the respective narratives that guided our thoughts and actions, we nurtured a mutual safe zone that allowed each of us to be heard. From there, our stories fell onto more receptive ears.

Finding shared narratives can enhance our mutual understanding of complex challenges and the people involved. When individuals hold strong views driven by such a place of raw emotion, counter-arguments to their viewpoint only serve to solidify their narrative. Anyone who provides an opposing narrative becomes the villain in their own hero’s journey, the force to be overcome.

Receiving someone’s story without applying any of your subconscious filters allows stories to exist in their pure form — in all their messiness and often incomplete; they aren’t good, or bad — they just are. The goal of true story-listening is to listen intently and without judgement or praise.

Outside of facilitated group processes or communities of interest, there is very little focus on active story-listening in today’s world. For deep and genuine story-listening to occur, a clear process needs to be set and followed to provide the type of environment where people feel safe. Certain rituals, rules, or expected group or community behaviours can create a sacred space between the storyteller and the story-listener, that when respected they support a culture of rich storytelling. It is a model of deep listening that we see in collective group processes such as those promoted by Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programmes, carefully designed retreats, bible study groups, women’s or men’s circles, or other situations that provide space for dialogue, reflection, and the sharing of experience.

But most of us no longer sit around in circles facing each other in all our human glory and imperfection. We just hurl insults at each other on social media, shouting past each other until we are red in the face at the audacity, the gall, the supposed stupidity of “those other people”.

After any kind of deep story-listening work, the narratives of both parties may emerge differently. There is a new richness in understanding between the parties involved. The act of listening from neutral ground legitimises the story in the other person, helps them to drop their armour, and to be more open. Like any new or unfamiliar practice though, the act of story-listening is a muscle that needs to be flexed. It requires a conscious decision not to fall into old patterns, and follow heuristic pathways to jump to conclusions. We need new 21st Century ways of authentic storytelling and active story-listening that allow for us to find common ground. If you have come across such models in your work or personal life, please feel free to drop me a comment below.

Storytelling | Narrative | Systems Change | Spoken Word | Currently writing a book on storytelling, narrative & systems change | www.alinasiegfried.com/book

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