Water Your Own Garden is our way of encouraging you to enjoy moments of reflection, admiration and learning, and to then focus on your own garden…your life.”
“Oh no, not this guy” I thought as I sat down in a small working group with people from my small town. I had run into him before years ago, and it wasn’t a pleasant experience. From the way he acted, he didn’t remember me – but I remembered him.
This was a Saturday morning, and I was attending a local ideas day to help shape a vision for my town. And now, here I was, sitting across from the one person I told myself I never wanted to talk to again. My previous experience with him left me feeling small and I had come to the conclusion back then that he was an inherently mean person. As I sat across from him, I did my best to avoid his gaze, preparing for attacks.
But then something happened that switched my thinking.
The facilitator, internationally acclaimed community developer Cormac Russell – a brilliantly warm and gentle man – asked us to uncover what was strong about our town by sharing personal stories of what community has meant to us.
Our small group listened intently to each other. One told us that natural beauty was what gave her peace and happiness. Our town had become her sanctuary, which was why she was so passionate about caring for the natural environment. Another shared of arriving here with a newborn, feeling sleep deprived and isolated. She connected with a group of new mothers and they quickly provided support for each other as they navigated the ups and downs of parenthood. As their children prepare for high school, their friendship continues today.
Then this guy – the guy who had been unkind to me years before – spoke about the time he and his neighbours came together to clean up a public space by their homes and revegetate it with natives. They raised money to place a picnic table in the area and every Christmas they invite their neighbours together, gathered at the table, for drinks and nibbles.
I was lifted up by these stories. And as I shared my story with them, I realised the similarities we share. We all sought a genuine connection – whether that be with the natural world, with our neighbours or with people who are in similar stages in life.
And then I felt a wave a guilt. I consider myself a hopeful, positive person but I came to this meeting with a grey and one-dimensional view; clouded in bias and judgement.
The guy I wrote-off as a jerk all those years ago showed a sincere desire to help and connect. I saw value in his views and his ideas and I even found myself liking him. Does this make his previous behaviour ok? No. But for me to decide that he was inherently unkind was unfair. I don’t know his full story and perhaps if I did, I could understand his behaviour a little more.
My snap judgements of others were also challenged. I began the day scanning the room to weigh up who would be negative, combative, selfish or mean. I am not proud of this. And, luckily, it was storytelling that washed those judgements away so I could see a rich new dimension to the people there.
That day reminded me how powerful stories are. They make this world and the people in it more vivid and multi-dimensional. They challenge our biases by inviting us to walk in the shoes of the teller, and by doing so, our world becomes more colourful. And what’s wonderful about stories is that they can be told by anyone.
I was reminded that morning that powerful stories require us to have courage to dive in. Powerful stories ask us to share what is real and honest; they ask us to feel. By sharing our stories, we are courageously and generously giving a bit of ourselves to others and it can be a wonderful gift.
Stories also challenge us to listen to each other with an open mind. Listening to stories awakens compassion, empathy and human connection in a way that facts and figures can never do.
On that day with the people in my town, storytelling gave me a gift. It gifted me with understanding, compassion, connection and even joy. I left that meeting feeling a connection and care towards everyone in that room. On that day, my world became a little more colourful, and it was beautiful. I am grateful to those who shared their stories, and I am also grateful that I chose to listen.
So the next time you’re asked to tell a story – or you ask someone else about theirs - dive in. You may just find you leave the experience with a little more colour, understanding and compassion in your world, too.
...at Hatrick, we love stories and are always eager to listen. If you have a story you'd like to share, please contact us!
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