About Conversation Kindling

The purpose of this blog is to share stories, metaphors, quotes, songs, humor, etc. in hopes they'll be used to spark authentic and rewarding conversations about working and living fruitfully. There are at least three things you can gain by getting involved in these conversations. First, you'll discover new and important things about yourself through the process of thinking out loud. Second, you'll deepen your relationships with others who participate by swapping thoughts, feelings, and stories with them. Finally, you'll learn that robust dialogue centered on stories and experiences is the best way to build new knowledge and generate innovative answers to the questions that both life and work ask.

I write another blog called My Spare Brain. This is where I am "storing" ideas for use in future books, articles, blog posts, speeches, and workshops. There is little rhyme or reason for what I post there. I do this to encourage visitors to come as treasure hunters looking for new ways of seeing and thinking vs. researchers looking for new or better answers to questions they already know how to ask.

24 September 2010

Lake Wobegon, Garrison Keillor & Me

Garrison Keillor is creator and host of A Prairie Home Companion which was first broadcast from the Janet Wallace auditorium at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, on July 6, 1974.

Today, almost 40 years later, his tales from the fictional Lake Wobegon, which he calls "the little town that time forgot and the decades cannot improve," are heard by over 4 million listeners each week on almost 600 public radio stations here and abroad.

Speaking about the show's long run on APHC's website, Keillor says:

"When the show started, it was something funny to do with my friends, and then it became an achievement that I hoped would be successful, and now it's a good way of life."

I get Garrison Keillor. I grew up in a small, out-of-the-way Minnesota town - not unlike his Lake Wobegon - and can relate to the yarns he spins about the folks who live there and the warp and weft of their lives.

I also get Garrison because he and I are pretty close to the same age and grew up with the same stuff spinning around, over, under and through us: the dawn of the nuclear age; the dark shadow cast 'round the world by an evil Soviet Union; The Shadow and The Lone Ranger on the radio; Ozzie & Harriet, Father Knows Best and Bonanza on TV; the birth of rock & roll; the tragic deaths of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P Richardson aka The Big Bopper; the civil rights movement; the murders of Jack and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King; Timothy Leary and trips on LSD; Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, and The Kingston Trio; San Francisco, flower children, Volkswagen buses and free love; Vietnam, draft dodgers, war protesters; the Beatles, Helter Skelter & Charlie Manson; Richard Nixon, Watergate, and on ... and on ... and on. Ahh! Yes! "Those were the days, my friend" ... sing along now ... "I thought they'd never end, we'd sing and dance forever and a day." Hmmm.

Times have changed, of course, just like Bob Dylan said they would, and when I get to looking back on those days of yesteryear, I usually get to thinking about how smart I thought I was; how I had all the answers. Maybe Garrison does too. But, once you get to be our age - Garrison's and mine - and if you still have your wits about you, it slowly dawns on you that you may not have been so smart after all. Or, as Garrison has simply and profoundly stated:
"You get old and you realize there are no answers, just stories."
Stories ... they are the principle driver of learning that sticks in the human brain:
"If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten." - Rudyard Kipling
Stories ... they keep us from losing our way:
"If you don't know the trees you may be lost in the forest, but if you don't know the stories you may be lost in life." -  A Siberian Elder
Stories ... they help us connect with others in a deep, meaningful way:
"We are lonesome animals. We spend all our life trying to be less lonesome.  One of our ancient methods is to tell a story begging the listener to say — and to feel — 'Yes, that’s the way it is, or at least that’s the way I feel it. You’re not as alone as you thought.' " - John Steinbeck
  • In Dreamgates, Robert Moss wrote: "Australian Aborigines say that the big stories - the stories worth telling and retelling, the ones in which you may find the meaning of your life - are forever stalking the right teller, sniffing and tracking like predators hunting their prey in the bush." What is the big story you are meant to tell? How will it find you?
  • Hannah Arendt has said: "Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it." How do you understand what she is saying?
  • When he is talking to leaders, Peter Block often says: "Our ability to facilitate the learning of others is absolutely dependent on our own consciousness and on our willingness to make our own actions a legitimate subject of inquiry. Allowing the personal to become public is the act of responsibility that initiates cultural change and reforms organizations. Our need for privacy and our fear of the personal are primary reasons why organizational change is more rhetoric than reality. Real change comes from our willingness to own our vulnerability, confess our failures, and acknowledge that many of our stories do not have a happy ending." Do you typically share these kinds of stories? Why or why not?
"The eye of understanding is like the eye of the sense; for as you may see great objects through small crannies or levels, so you may see great axioms of nature through small and contemptible instances." - Francis Bacon, Sylva Sylvarum
"Proverbs are always platitudes until you have personally experienced the truth of them." - Aldous Huxley
"The leader who says ‘I don’t know’ essentially says that the group is facing a new ballgame where the old tools of logic may be its undoing rather than its salvation. To drop these tools is not to give up on finding a workable answer. It is only to give up on one means of answering that is ill-suited to the unstable, the unknowable, the unpredictable. To drop the heavy tools of rationality is to gain access to lightness in the form of intuitions, feelings, stories, experience, active listening, shared humanity, awareness in the moment, capability for fascination, awe, novel words and empathy." - Karl Weick
"Self-disclosure is the act of revealing yourself to others – your thoughts, feelings, intentions– telling your story. Another word for self-disclosure is 'intimacy'. This word is commonly associated with sexuality. But it really refers to familiarity and closeness. Intimacy can be understood better by pronouncing it as 'in-to-me-see' – a clear reference to self-disclosure. Why is intimacy so important? It builds understanding, trust, compassion, and commonality – all of which are essential to effective relationships. When you begin to understand other people’s stories, your heart softens. You find that their sorrows and joys are similar to yours, and that you have more in common than you ever thought. You draw closer and become more tolerant, more supportive, and more understanding." - Mark D. Youngblood, Life at the Edge of Chaos
"'I would ask you to remember only this one thing,' said Badger. 'The stories people tell have a way of taking care of them. If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. That is why we put these stories in each other's memory. This is how people care for themselves. One day you will be good story-tellers. Never forget these obligations.'" - Barry Lopez, Crow and Weasel
"A minister has to be able to read a clock. At noon, it's time to go home and turn up the pot roast and get the peas out of the freezer." - Garrison Keillor
"They say such nice things about people at their funerals that it makes me sad that I'm going to miss mine by just a few days." - Garrison Keillor
"Even in a time of elephantine vanity and greed, one never has to look far to see the campfires of gentle people." - Garrison Keillor

1 comment:

John Horton said...

Jim, we baby boomers thought we knew it all. Later we thought we'd seen and done it all. Now we're amazed that we're still here after all.