The Beauty and Benefits of Storytelling for Building Connection

I was recently inspired by a question that was raised on Jordan Hall’s Collaborative Inquiry experiment. The question was rich and multifaceted, covering a variety of crucial terrain:

  • Whether it’s really possible to predict Game B from a Game A lens?;
  • If self-evolution (and cleaning our own instrument of consciousness) isn’t a prerequisite for GameB before we can consider systems redesign?;
  • Whether evolutionary development first requires you to craft your own authentic narrative and rewrite your own life story?; and
  • If practice with like-minded folks is the most effective means of achieving this in our experience?

For anyone who happens to be interested in reading my substantive response to these questions you can click this link to the Collaborative Inquiry.

I was particularly moved by the third piece outlined above.

“Whether evolutionary development first requires you to craft your own authentic narrative and rewrite your own life story?”

In his question Andy had referenced:

Robert Kegan’s research suggests that those who are able to grow through self-authorship and into self transformation will be able to shape not only themselves, but humanity’s future.”

I love how Jordan Hall puts it so clearly and succinctly in his Qanon paper (that I came across in August this year):

We live in a non-linear world, stop thinking linearly. Once you have accepted this as the task, you will eventually come to an important conclusion: you can’t. By yourself, you can’t think non-linearly. This isn’t your fault.

Individual human beings can’t think non-linearly. Only “collective intelligences,” those agents of “inter-subjective consciousness” can.

To put it more simply, we implement and do things as individuals. We innovate as tribes. And the world we live in today — the world of the 21st Century is a world of continuous innovation.”

In my experience, this is a skill and a discipline that evolves over time as we continue to do it, but there has been little that’s been more supportive in building initial trust in connection than our willingness to share ourselves in this way.

It is the kind of innate bonding ritual that is so natural and familiar to us because it harks back to the tribal days of storytelling around the campfire, before technology was even a thing. We’ve literally been doing it for thousands of years.

If anyone of you watched the Firepit Dialogues story that I shared on 3rd October, it speaks to how as a group we spent many months in the early stages of our relationship simply sitting around the fire pit telling our stories and, whether we realised it at the time or not, developing our presence and ability to be attentive and attuned to one another.

Given that coherence is primarily a local phenomenon, in person, this is key. It supports our bodies and our nervous systems to acclimate to the parasympathetic state with one another. The more relaxed our bodies are, the more open we are to possible feedback from the others in the group.

Online, the cultivation of coherence is more challenging by virtue of the fact that we’re more distributed, which creates the added potential for miscommunication and misunderstanding that comes from the cue-depletion of not experiencing the person’s facial expressions, tone, pheromones and other sensory data because we’re primarily expressing through the written word on a page.

So in the online environment, being able to have more context of someone’s come-from, their cultural norms, their self-perception, and more information for how we can relate to them or empathise with them, will be supportive in building the relationships and, over time, being able to discern if:

(a) we want to be in closer contact, perhaps meet in person, attend the same event or spend more time together to build real relationship (a good example of this was a message I received after I posted my story in RPA that said, “I saw your post in RPA and just wanted to reach out as you sounds like someone I would like to get to know” and we subsequently hopped on the phone); and

(b) if a person’s online signal is more or less “off” or noisy on a given day as we become more familiar with them through that lens.

So if we’re only participating in a group to occasionally sprinkle our perspective into the group, with no intention of building real relationship with the other participants, or with no commitment to coming into a truly collaborative dialogue with a view to creating a depth of shared reality, such that coherence becomes possible, then stories aren’t strictly necessary (but they would still be valuable for clearer communication nonetheless).

However, if we’re seeking to cultivate the conditions for the kind of coherence that creates emergent collective intelligence within a group, since coherence is a function of real relationships, then the telling of our origin stories is a foundational element to building those kind of real and meaningful relationships; the kind that will create the anti-fragile bonds that will keep you in the game when things inevitably get tough further down the road.

And what I’ve learnt in that process within our own culture, is that by hearing ourselves express our stories out loud, in a space that is dedicated to listening with presence:

(a) we get to bring ourselves all the way into the present moment, charting the path of how we came to be sitting sharing our story, and to feel truly seen, heard and understood by people who are singularly focussing their attention on us in that moment, which (believe it or not) is a surprisingly rare and precious gift to receive;

(b) We get to hear and feel the places in our stories where emotional energy is still stuck or uncomfortable or we are still operating under a false belief or victim orientation;

(c)We get an opportunity to feel that emotional energy, and in it being felt (and ideally witnessed whether in person or on video), it supports in releasing it from our system and thereby creates space for a new frame (or as Andy called it, a “rewrite”) around the story;

(d) It is extremely useful for others to be able to see the lens that we, as the person speaking, are seeing the world through, in addition to where the potential misaligned beliefs or stories might be hiding out — especially if we’re in an endeavour toward greater group coherence; and

(e) If we are intending to come into deeper connection as a group at some juncture, we also get to see the themes in our group’s collective experience that we are representing as micros of the macro, which offers the potential for us to traverse those themes on behalf of the collective and thereby transmute collective patterns through our personalised life stories.

And, as Kegan expresses above, all of this supports us in being “able to shape not only [our]selves, but humanity’s future”.

And while I appreciate the cognitive explorations and feel that they have their place and value in the GameB realm, it also feels like there is the potential to inject more of our humanity into these conversations.

Which is why I then submitted my story to Rally Point Alpha, GameB and Futurethinkers — all groups that are expressly committed to exploring and understanding more about the phenomena of coherence and collective intelligence.

The post was accepted in Rally Point Alpha and approved in GameB, but rejected from Futurethinkers on the basis that it was initially perceived as:

“signaling to a desire for attention and personal brand building, and not a desire to help others or contribute ideas.”

And after diligently clarifying my intentions with the moderators, the post still hasn’t been accepted and I’ve not yet received any communication back.

Soon after, Bruce, a fellow member of some of these groups, beautifully expressed on another post:

“I think most would find that given a commitment to developing skillful means of connection, beyond the proselytizing of intellectual conjectures, and instead learning to connect to the most basic of human values in action… starting where the heart beats, those very things that are common to us all, not starting from the differences (which is our current sad knee-jerk conditionings/tendencies)… Might just prove to be practical catalyst in tractoring us forward towards a *game~b* emergence. THIS and holding hands with dissonance as a value to be practiced into…”

Bruce’s statement beautiful illuminated why it felt valuable for me to share my story so openly in the “GameB”-type forums and to invite other people to share theirs.

And as I did, something beautiful started to happen.

People started to share themselves too.

Some in the most touching, heart-breaking (in the sense of it breaking open), raw, vulnerable and courageous ways.

We got to learn something about the diverse nature of some of the participants in the group.

We got to feel eachother……..as humans………..who have lived rich and varied lives.

And we got to have, even if just for a moment, a fleeting taste of “home”.

It reminded me (on so many levels) of a story that had touched my heart so deeply at the beginning of my journey with this team, called The Gathering of the Tribe by Charles Eisenstein. It’s a story it says,

As you begin to awaken to your mission you will meet others of our tribe. You will recognize them by your common purpose, values, and intuitions, and by the similarity of the paths you have walked. As the condition of the planet earth reaches crisis proportions, your paths will cross more and more. The time of loneliness, the time of thinking you might be crazy, will be over.

You will find the people of your tribe all over the earth, and become aware of them through the long-distance communication technologies used on that planet. But the real shift, the real quickening, will happen in face-to-face gatherings in special places on earth. When many of you gather together you will launch a new stage on your journey, a journey which, I assure you, will end where it began. Then, the mission that lay unconscious within you will flower into consciousness. Your intuitive rebellion against the world presented you as normal will become an explicit quest to create a more beautiful one.”

Finally, for the purposes of brevity there are two posts that I feel called to share from these early exploits in the storytelling realm, because to me, they feel like beautifully exemplify the essence at the heart of what I’m speaking to:

One from Caroline who said:

“Is it possible to build community around the task of solving the biggest problem(s) without letting forth an incredible degree of intellectualizing?

The intellect is, by nature, cold. Especially when it is the intellect expressing through pixels on a screen.

This is serious work. We have our hard-won perspective; we have theories and proposals.

But we also yearn for the warmth of conversation, the warmth of understanding (not in the sense of ‘agreeing’ with one another, but in the sense of {meeting in presence}).

Your words reminded me that THIS must come first.

To Anna and to anyone who may encounter these pixels, I am beaming you my gratitude — may we be united in our common striving!”

Caroline then quoted a gentleman by the name of Peter Block, which really resonated with me:

“Questions bring people together.

Answers drive us apart. Ideology, the conflict you see in the world. People thinking they’re right and being more wedded to their ideology than working something out.

A friend of mine is a math teacher and she said something I can’t ever forget.

She said, “What I do is create a classroom where the students fall in love with each other, in the presence of a math teacher.”

And I thought, “Now *that’s* practical!”

If people don’t get connected, they can’t learn anything.

Questions bring intimacy into a world where people are deeply isolated and disconnected.

Thank you for inviting in the intimacy, Anna!”

Another from Andy who shared:

For the first time since leaving my trusted and spiritual martial arts tribe, I am starting to feel a real sense of reconnecting to like-minded sapiens currently ‘in transition’.

Just as Anna conveyed to to me what she felt as she read my intro, I would like to borrow her comments as they apply perfectly to my felt sense as I read your intro bro…

“This gives me such a rich insight into your journey and I feel a lot of resonance with a whole bunch of aspects of it.”

There’s no place like home….🙏

To me, this is the blessing of true community and coherence-building in action in exquisite form.

With blessings —

Anna

As a former lawyer, Anna merges material world memories, tales of transformation and embodied experience in articulating the future of collaboration