Although not a commonly used term, “separateness” is our inability to know what’s really going on in the lives of even our closest friends. What events in their lives caused them to arrive at this point? What have they been doing since I last saw them? Who are they, really? What memories, relationships, habits, thoughts, attitudes, values, and feelings influence their behavior? What’s their story?
When I’m being totally honest and realistic about it, I have to admit I don’t have much of a clue.
And neither do you. You may think you do, but you don’t. That’s why after being married to someone for 15 or 20 years, you still learn things that surprise you. Important things.
The reality is that we can’t be informed about everything there is to know about a person. Every individual is traveling a life journey that we know little about.
The health of my father-in-law, who is nearly 90 years old, has been steadily declining. What has this last part of his life journey been like for him? I’ve visited with him and I get all the reports from other family members, and I try to imagine what it must be like, but to be honest I’m not privy to the details, especially his subjective day-to-day experience.
Today I went to the gym, got some ideas, worked on some of my writing projects, did some chores, had some conversations, made some notes, wandered around the yard, made some decisions, reflected about life (yes, some of my thoughts were about my father-in-law), watched some of the NBA finals…
One of my thoughts: Nobody who knows me was aware of the quality of my day. Nobody who knows me really understands where my journey is taking me.
They may think they know me and what’s going on in my life, but they’re aware of so little. Especially friends I haven’t seen in a while. My life journey is ultimately a very private affair.
We briefly defeat this separateness through storytelling. By sharing stories, we reveal what can’t be known any other way - a small piece of our journey.
I think that’s why I like fiction and film so much. The No. 1 thing I acquired from my Ph.D. studies at Duke University over 35 years ago was a love of stories. Whether in magazines, books, articles, blog posts or movies, I love stories. I get my money’s worth from my Netflix account. During the past several years, I’ve watched nearly 2,000 movies.
When I’m with someone, what I want more than anything else is the story. It could be someone I’ve just met. It could be an old friend I haven’t seen in a while. It could be my wife. “What happened?” I’ll say. “Go on…then what happened?”
Stories are how we get closer to people. Stories are how we calm the feeling that we’re alone in our existence. Without stories, intimacy is impossible. For me, this has to happen one-on-one. Preferably in person. The phone is a poor substitute, but I’ll take it if that’s all I can get. Social media? No sir, no possibility of storytelling there….
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Dr. Dennis E. Coates is a Coach. You might have noticed this based on his curiosity of other peoples stories. One characteristic that I see over and over again in really effective coaches is their often intense interest in the stories of other people. I think this is why coaching is so important in higher education.
Colleges and universities have literally thousands of students enrolled in their programs. With many professors still utilizing the ol’ sage on the stage approach to teaching there is little opportunity for student conversation, input, or storytelling during class time. For some students this may be the only time they have to establish real relationships with their peers and professors.
Over the years I have referred countless students to advisors and learning strategists who are also trained coaches. Working with a coach provides the student with an opportunity to tell their story. Coaches listen deeply, they care, and they know the best questions to ask to help draw the student out. For many of these students the coach-student relationship may be the only outlet they have to speak in truth about their learning experience and to feel heard and validated in their experience.
Dr. Coates raises an important issue, especially when considering the large amount of communication that happens via social media and text these days. There is little space created for real, face-to-face conversations that matter
How do we enhance the student experience? We provide students with structured opportunities to speak together and to speak with professors. We offer coach training to appropriate faculty, staff, and students. We build community through storytelling, listening, and real relationships.
- Lindy Garneau, The Professor’s Apprentice