Before the happier work life is discovered—
Before the marriage gets stronger—
Before the relationship is restored—
Before the forgiveness is granted—
There is one human being, pausing
to see outside ‘the story.’
We all have our version of ‘the story.’
We form our idea of ‘what happened’ and ‘what’s going on’ in any given situation—whether that’s a narrative about a relationship, about a work situation, or about our home lives. It’s natural to tell ourselves stories. Research says that we actually need stories in order to function; narratives are how we make meaning of complex life experiences. I remind my clients often: We live our lives in stories.
Once you start to see stories, you see them everywhere: family narratives, work narratives, cultural narratives (like the “American blueprint” Julie Beck points out in her fantastic article Life’s Stories: “go to school, graduate, get a job, get married, have kids”). All of these narratives feed into our personal conception of life, then get dealt back out into the world as we communicate and interact with others.
No wonder our conflicts are so complicated.
When I work with individuals and groups in conflict scenarios, I ask every person to sidestep, pause, and consider: “What if there’s another way to tell the story?” Could someone else—a boss, a coworker—be telling a narrative that contrasts your own?
In the world of conflict resolution, we call this alternative a counterstory.
I first learned the term from mediator and scholar David Anderson Hooker. (You’ll hear more about him in posts to come.) That we all tell stories and they’re different is a life-changing concept.
The counterstory mindset gives us a way to navigate conflict: I’m free to admit that my point of view is subjective. You get to have your story, too. Which means that we can start to compare notes—to learn new ways of thinking and share a meaningful, productive conversation. In the work of peacemaking, counterstory is where we start.
Disclaimer: I’m not asking anyone to give up their story ‘just like that.’ Your story, my story—they’re each important to our lives. But what if you put down the permanent marker (as Julie Beck puts it) and picked up a piece of chalk?
What I’m excited to tell you is this:
You are in the unique position of changing the culture of your workplace, your home, your community. The fact that you’re here means that you have a desire to make your sphere of influence flourish. And for that, I say welcome and thank you.
Often, we need someone with a different perspective (an outsider) to show us the counterstory, an alternative way of understanding and moving forward. I’ve been lucky to have those third-party people in my life. It’s the same help I’m here to give.
The content you’ll find on this blog is meant to encourage you. It’s meant to provide a new framework for thinking about your life and your conflicts. (No human life is conflict-free.)
Full disclosure, this is a place of work—hard work. But rest assured that the work is good, worthwhile, and full of hope.
Counterstories is a blog collaboration between conflict resolution specialist Steve Beck and writer/editor Rachael Schmid. If you have a powerful story of forgiveness or peacemaking (or just want to share your thoughts on this post), we’d love to hear from you. Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.