Having difficult conversations? Embrace the “un-story self”

Pop the Bubble: a workshop on engaging in difficult conversations by Kern Beare

It wasn’t a particularly ideal day to travel. Grey skies, a light misting of rain, the winter winds setting in. I sat there looking out the window as the plane began its ascension, traveling from Ithaca, New York to San Francisco, California. The clouds continued to surround the plane, obscuring my vision of the land below, when suddenly we broke through the heavy grey and emerged above the clouds, to a beautiful expansive sea of blue sky and warm light. I thought to myself, “If only everyone below the clouds could see what I am seeing!” I looked down out of the window and something caught me by surprise – beneath the plane was a full rainbow, forming a complete circle. What a view! What a radical difference to be above the clouds.

I was traveling to California as Euphrates’ new Global Outreach and Communications Director to attend an event celebrating our Visionaries of the Year, Len and Libby Traubman, and to partake in a workshop on navigating difficult conversations, entitled, “Pop the Bubble,” led by Kern Beare (click here to learn more). Since joining the Euphrates team I feel that I am on a journey skyward, gaining new perspectives of the world and mankind, ones that are just as beautiful and freeing as the view above the clouds. And during my trip, these new views continued.

One fresh perspective I gained was the need to embrace new views of ourselves and others if we wish to transform challenging conversations into constructive ones. During Kern’s workshop, I found particular inspiration in his encouragement to the participants to embrace the “un-story self” when engaging in difficult discussions. This is probably an unfamiliar term to many of you. It certainly was to me! Imagine writing your story on a clear piece of paper. Your story is the sum total of all your experiences, based on gender, race, religion, ethnicity, culture, dreams, ambitions, teachers, mentors, friends, etc. Hold this piece of paper in front of your eyes. As you look around, taking in the scenery, the buildings and the people, you are seeing everything through the lens of your story. Now imagine slowly bringing this paper away from your face. You begin to have a more expansive view. You see around your story, not just through it. Our story self is the perspective when the paper is close to our face. Our un-story self is the self we have when we look beyond and around our story, when we have a more expansive perspective.

Now think about this when you are having a difficult conversation with someone, when you feel the judgment creeping in, the frustration welling up. Are you in your story self – looking through the lens of your own experiences – or are you embracing your un-story self – seeing beyond your story, considering different perspectives, looking at the world through new eyes?

It’s not always easy to step outside the story self…and there is certainly a time and a place for this self. After all, our story is what makes us unique. However it can also limit us. We can become so entrenched in it, unable to remove the lens of our story and see above and beyond it. Yet just as I felt such a freedom when the plane broke through the grey and emerged above the clouds, embracing the un-story self allows us to rise above and dispel the clouds of conflict and disagreement and emerge into the realm of infinite possibilities for healing tensions of all kinds.

I certainly saw the potential for the un-story self during the workshop, which brought together individuals from all sectors of the community – business, religion, politics, non-profit, etc. It was, to say the least, a very diverse group. A recipe for disaster? Quite the opposite. One could sense there was a true receptivity, a hunger for new skills and fresh perspectives. At the end of the day as the participants reflected, one could easily feel there was an atmosphere of humility, an acknowledgment that perhaps we can’t keep carrying on the same way we have in the past. Perhaps we need to see one another in a different light, to look beyond our story and ourselves and take in new views of the world and its citizens. Participants stood up at the end of the workshop and shared the transformation they felt in their thought as they saw beyond their own story and considered a different perspective. It was certainly a day above the clouds!

Kern closed with this quote by Alan Jacobs, “We don’t need to be like-minded if we can be like-hearted.” The intellect will always look for differences and the heart will always search for connection. Listening for someone’s heart and connecting on that level, dropping the misconceptions and judgments, and seeing through their eyes may not always be easy, but it is a simple way to begin to heal broken societies and relationships.

More about Kern Beare…

Kern travelled the country after the 2016 presidential election and engaged with people outside of his own Silicon Valley “bubble.” He yearned to reconnect with his fellow Americans and learn about their experiences, seeking to learn what happened in that year’s election and why. Engaging in conversations around the country with people from very diverse backgrounds, he came away with an understanding of some of the ways Americans might bridge the divides that the election had caused.

To learn more about Kern’s workshop, please check out his website: https://popthebubble.org/. Or for those of you who are in the US, if you are interested in having Kern lead a workshop in your area, please fill out this form: https://popthebubble.org/contact/.

What Do You Think?

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  • Jan in New Mexico says:

    Love the perspective! Working to maintain it on a more regular basis.

  • Steve Graybill says:

    I wish I could have been part of the workshop. Critics will say that this choosing to look outside of oneself normalizes destructive behavior and systems. Anna Baltzer might call this “the danger of neutrality.” In her recent Ted Talk she said “It became clear that neutrality wasn’t a catalyst for mediation or change; it was the exact opposite. It maintained the power imbalance exactly as it was, leaving the scales tipped in favor of those with power.” Clearly, for me, what you advocate here in this blog post is not neutrality. However, I believe others can and will spin it to be that. Baltzer further challenges us that we must take a side. How do we differentiate between being neutral and embracing the un-story self? How do we embrace the un-story self without normalizing destructive behavior and systems?

  • Lindsey says:

    Thanks so much for sharing! I love the visual metaphor of looking through a transparency/lens of our story and backing it away. It’s a neat way to recognize our subjective and objective views. It reminds me of a debate v. dialogue chart.

    Thanks for all the good work you all are doing.

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