July 31, 2009

People Want to Tell Their Story

The first meeting with an Ombuds is dominated by story telling. An Ombuds must get the visitor's narrative before anything else. Without the visitor's story, the Ombuds cannot adequately clarify options, explain policies, identify other resources, make referrals, offer coaching, or begin the work of opening lines of communication. Yet in many cases, there is an immediate benefit from simply listening to the visitor's narrative. Many visitors express relief at being able to explain how they came to be here. Yesterday, NPR profiled Michael Kimball, a writer who captures people's biographies in short form. His insights on asking people about their story resonated with me.
He says he thinks people tell him intimate details of their lives because they're not generally asked about them.

"I think it's something that just doesn't happen so much in our culture anymore," he says. "There are a lot of people who are putting themselves out there in different ways — everything from status updates to tweets to whatever is on their MySpace page or their own blog, but we don't have people asking questions."

Kimball says there are two ways to group people who come to the blog to have their life story written: Those who have an ego and want "how good and what they've done sort of given back to them" and those who have had interesting or difficult experiences and want to "reclaim" their lives.

Those are the people who interest him most, he says. But those can also be the most challenging.

Kimball aims to honor the difficulties of people's lives — and also present them in an even-handed way. He does not want to make them too sentimental — or too sensational. And the challenge has also changed him as a person.

"However much empathy I had before I started this, I have more now," Kimball says.

(All Things Considered.)

1 comment:

  1. You're right. In many cases my clients have never told their whole story to anyone and are so unburdened, they decide not to take further action.