Be a contradiction.

The human body is composed of a variety of systems.  Each of them has a unique role and they all depend on each other.  Bones, muscles…digestive, cardiovascular, nervous systems, etc.  Similarly, an organization is an integration of intermingling and overlapping systems.  Organizations generally have some physical infrastructure.  There is also the workforce, the organizational chart, the policy manual, the unwritten norms; all important systems or components of an organization.

Another component is the organizations story about itself.

This story should be a product of competing narratives.  At the point where two or more competing narratives interface, collide, merge, mesh or dance lives tremendous potential.

I have, in the past, done a fair amount of race relations work in Omaha…workshops, town hall meetings, dinner dialogues, listening circles, retreats, etc.  Some folks (mostly white) think that there are absolutely no problems with race in Omaha….some folks (mostly racial and ethnic minorities), thank that Omaha is the most racist city they have ever lived in. Somewhere between those two stories (which are both seen as “the truth” by their respective holders) there is great opportunity for shared inquiry, learning and innovation.  In between is where you find the seed of change.

But we are really bad at creating containers for bringing those competing narratives together.  Sometimes we keep our story to ourselves because it is always seems to be met with resistance.  Sometimes we just do not know how or why to be open and honest with those that have a completely different version of things than we do. Sometimes it is simpler, safer and quicker to just go along with what everyone else is saying.  Sometimes we just avoid those with different stories.

If the story of your organization, your family, or your community is to be a truthful story, it must be informed by your story.

I know a number of women in corporate roles that have stopped talking about gender.  They never bring it up; they behave as if gender does not exist.  They have experienced challenges large and small related to gender but when shared, those experiences are often minimized or in some way justified; it often ends up being about something that they have done or not done, rather than the organization or its culture.  So they have stopped talking about gender.  It no longer exists.

So.

Gender is not a part of the larger shared story.

And.

Nothing will change related to gender.  We cannot change what we do not acknowledge.

It is much easier and much safer to go along with the story that “this is a good place to work” or “we really get diversity and inclusion here ” than it is to bring a perspective that runs counter to that story.

So women stop talking about gender, and people of color stop talking about race and ethnicity and things like religious diversity and sexual orientation and being bullied remain buried because they contradict the existing accepted and polished story.

A story that is truthful will contain some paradox and some contradiction.  Your organization is a good and a bad place to work.  Your community is a good and a bad place to live.

It is the intersection, the contradiction that grants us the opportunity for learning and change.

Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.
-Walt Whitman

 Are you sharing your story?  Are you seeking out stories that are radically different than yours?  Are you embracing the contradiction?

Be good to each other.

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  1. The Beauty of Competing Narratives

    […] That paradox is true for all of us, actually. My brilliant honorary brother, Joe Gerstandt, just wrote a post that talked about this kind of paradox. He notes that organizations have stories about themselves. […]

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