Listen for the real narrative

Often we talk about narrative and narrative-knowledge as if there’s only a single story in play at any one time, a single thread of meaning that’s carried by the words that that one person says.

Yet in reality there are many different threads of meaning in every narrative, and sometimes it’s the subtler threads – the ‘stories without words’ – that carry the most meaning. There’s an especially poignant example of this quoted by Disqus member ‘DDNAU‘ on one of Al Jazeera’s weblogs on the Libya crisis, in the immediate aftermath of the Tripoli uprising on 21 August:

A few hours ago, a news reporter said the TV station had an eyewitness to interview and said he understood the man wanted to remain anonymous. The man then spoke, saying he would give his name because he was no longer afraid. And he began spelling out his name, enunciating each letter deliberately. The news man became a bit impatient and cut him off before he finished, asking him what he was seeing at the moment. The man then told what was going on in his vicinity. The news man, intent on the action in the streets, seemed to miss the most important detail:  A Libyan man spoke his name freely in public, to the world, before describing the reality in front of him. That, to me, was as important a moment as all the others on this great day. That the Libyan people are now free to identify themselves and speak their views without fear for themselves or their loved ones.

Whenever we work with narrative, we need to remember to watch the context, listen for the deeper narrative – especially when a major mythquake is in progress. The story isn’t always in the words alone.

2 Comments on “Listen for the real narrative

  1. Yes good point. There were two stories being attempted by the Libyan and he almost certainly considered his being able to speak freely the more important. Shame the reporter didn’t. He or she probably didn’t notice, wasn’t really listening and watching for the clues that indicated which was more important.

    I often mention to training participants the skill of ‘listening like a storyteller’. Storytellers must continually be clued into audience response to be able to give the right weight to the right story at the right moment. Storytellers also have finely honed narrative sensitivity.

  2. Excellent piece. It’s not just the space between the letters and words that add vital meaning but it’s the deep threads that provide the intrigue and the added insight, much of which we may sense from a non-verbal position. As long as we’re ‘listening.’
    The point about the impatient interviewer gave access to the true essence of the start situation described above.
    The underlying listening and openness to the multiple senses that we possess can provide access to meanings and stories that we would never expect.
    Thanks again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *