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Friday, September 12, 2008

Tell Me Your Story by Dan Gottlieb

As you know, not only do I manage the NZ Art Guild, paint, blog and raise two kids - I also work as an Occupational Health Nurse 2 days a week. The reason I haven't blogged for the last 2 days - is because I've been at Occupational Health and Safety Industry Conference.

There were approximately 500 people from around NZ and overseas speakers too - who came together to share their stories, experience and knowledge - to work together to help prevent the 1000 deaths a year in NZ from occupationally related injuries and illnesses.

As you can imagine, there was some very sobering information - but also uplifting information about new initiatives and ways forward. We also had the opportunity to network - meet other people working in different areas of health and safety - different roles - different expertise and naturally different stories.

Therefore coming home and checking my emails it was timely to find this one.....

Tell Me Your Story by Dan Gottlieb

It came to me in the middle of the night a couple of weeks ago, four words that could change the world: Tell me your story.

These four words could have an impact on everything from global conflict to personal well-being. All we have to do is ask others to tell us their stories and then be quiet. Oh, one other thing: While you are listening, try to imagine what it would be like - and how you would feel - if it were your story. That's called empathy.

So just ask people for their stories, listen, imagine, and feel - sounds naive, doesn't it? Stick with me here.

First, saying these words will change you. Listening to others is an act of emotional generosity, and there is ample evidence that generosity stimulates the brain's endorphins - natural antidepressants. [...]

Second, this little exercise will change the person whose story you've asked for. Socrates may have overstated the issue a bit when he said, in modern translation, "an unexamined life is not worth living," but we humans do have a fundamental need to be understood for who we are. Think of how full we feel when someone looks in our eyes and says she wants to know how we experience our lives.

In today's world, social networks are shrinking. The number of people who report having no intimate friends is increasing. Simple eye contact, along with a caring "tell me your story," can go a long way toward diminishing someone's feelings of alienation and aloneness. I've spoken those words to kids of all ages in all kinds of neighborhoods. Most thank me for asking - and say that no one has ever done so before.

Third, beyond diminishing alienation and increasing a sense of connection, these four words can have a biological effect on both parties. According to Herbert Adler, a psychiatrist at Jefferson, compassion in the doctor-patient relationship actually changes each person's biological healing system. And if that happens in those relationships, it happens in other relationships. It literally promotes healing.

(...) Try it with a neighbor you don't know very well, a relative with whom you've had a misunderstanding. Try it with a street person and see what happens to both of you.
Just four words. We could start a movement.

- Dan Gottlieb

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