Good evening, I hope this finds you well and enjoying the terrific weather.
My plan, over the next few weeks, was to stick to the themes of equity and urgency. But over the last few days, I have been in at least four conversations in which one or both of us have been in tears. So sticking to the plan seems a bit tone-deaf. Instead, I would like to acknowledge that this is a difficult time for a variety of reasons—budgets being cut, leaders and coaches losing their jobs, boards or community members or parents or bosses or colleagues or other constituents who are at best unsupportive and at worst antagonistic, qualitative and quantitative data that weigh heavily on us, and so on, and so on.
Often at this juncture I would be echoing Senge, that the way we see the problem is the problem. But I also think that this insight does not cover all the aspects of what we’re talking about here, because there is a limit to what we can feel differently because we think differently. And sometimes, either because of our own circumstances or our empathy for others who are going through hard times, we just feel bad.
Our impulse is to avoid feeling bad, but Jerome Murphy, in Dancing in the Rain, advocates against that (and thank you to whoever tipped me off to this resource). I know the term “lean in” has become a bit of a cliché, but all the same, there are benefits to doing just that. Tough times present an opportunity to become more self-aware and reflective; and to become more compassionate towards others. One way to do that is to immerse yourself in others’ stories (and see this article in Scientific American for the science behind it). Here are some stories that have meant a lot to me, and I am unashamedly going for the ones that made me cry.
One of the things I like about The Economist is that it frequently uses its obituary page to highlight the life of an otherwise unsung hero—those people who are, to paraphrase George Eliot, the reason why our lives are not as bad as they could be, and who rest in unvisited tombs—so read this obituary of an Indian nurse.
The podcast has become something of an art form in going deep to tell a story from multiple angles. Both seasons of Serial are masterful at doing that. The truth is complicated and who are we to judge?
The New Yorker frequently features really moving stories. Recently, there has been some great reporting: fighting police abuse and systemic racism in Chicago; a family’s struggle with the death of a child; and of course, the Harvey Weinstein exposé.
I think it is no accident that the teary conversations I’ve had lately have involved a lot of story-telling. Stories are how we communicate emotion, bond with each other, develop empathy, feel heard and understood, and express sympathy and concern. At the Center’s Equity Institute, we devote a sizeable portion of the time to story, because everyone has a story; because story-telling is how we come together in a shared space; because every story told in tough times is also a story about resilience, and we need to be reminded of that. You may also appreciate Elena Aguilar’s summer reading list of books to build resilience.
As always, if you have any feedback for me, or if there is anything else I can do for you, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Yours, Isobel
Isobel Stevenson PhD PCC
Connecticut Center for School Change
151 New Park Avenue
Hartford, CT 06106