This post is the context for the stories that will follow in this blog and on social media.
My 70th birthday is coming up in November. Last year my sons said they would support anything I wanted to do for my birthday celebration. So I’ve been thinking about this for some time. I would like this event to symbolize my gratitude for all that has brought me to this point, and to give something back to the world in that gratitude. I’m inviting you to participate.
Over the last year, and particularly the last few months, I have experienced deep despair about the future of the world. Constant negative news about economic, political, cultural, environmental events and forecasts have had a huge impact on me. And when I talk with others, there is a near universal response of “I’ve experienced the same thing”. Many of the events we hear about seem to be beyond our control.
At the same time, every so often, stories crop up of something that ordinary people are doing in their communities or beyond, that make a significant difference in people’s lives. Many have huge ripple effects. These give me hope, and are the antidote to despair. The more I look for them, the more I see and hear. This fits with my life-long observations that significant change begins with ordinary people, generally at the local level.
I am thinking that what the world needs to counter the despair that paralyzes us is to hear real, grounded stories of how ordinary people are making a positive difference for others – their communities and beyond. And as I look for these stories, my sense of our capacity to make significant change begins to return.
Invitation to the Storytelling So as my gift back to the world, I propose to host a birthday party event on Sunday November 25 that is a storytelling event. It can include people who can physically attend, as well as all my friends, colleagues, and family globally who can participate virtually by sending their stories to me. The face-to-face storytelling event is inspired by the “Swamp Gravy” process from Colquit, Georgia, where we share stories with each other using active listening. Those who are present can tell their stories to each other, and we will also share stories sent in by those who can’t attend.
Here’s what I’m asking of you to do as a gift to me and this process over the next 2 months: look everywhere for stories of where ordinary people are making a positive difference in others’ lives, and capture them. Tell the stories in your own words, and write them down. These can be very local stories, like the one of Peter in my neighbourhood who saw that the park across from his house was becoming a place for vandalism and drug deals, and organized the “Friends of Stephenson Park” to create eventfulness year-round that makes the park a community-friendly and cherished space, and brought together neighbours that wouldn’t have spoken otherwise. Or they can be stories that make the news, like the Parkland school shooting students who are organizing young people across the US to register and vote, giving voice to a powerful new force. Or the global stories of “Free to Run”, which has engaged young women in Afghanistan and other cultures to run long distances together, inspiring other young women to claim their freedom. They can even be stories of what YOU are doing.
I will capture the stories we collect and tell each other on a blog afterward, and share them at regular intervals on social media, email lists, and other modes, to inoculate all of us against despair, and inspire more local action.