Saturday, September 20, 2014

Stories that Change People

"Stories in one form or another convey a message or learning about a particular problem... with the intention of instructing or advising the listener, the story becomes for that person a METAPHOR... [throwing] new light on the character of what is being described." David Gordon, Therapeutic Metaphors
As with Sufi teaching tales and the Zen tradition of Koans, such metaphors are powerful because they act on the unconscious mind.

A few years ago, I coached a grad student I'll call Phil, who wanted to find more productive ways to organize his dissertation and overcome what he felt were negative aspects of his Enneagram Style Four. In our first conversation he seemed surprised by and appreciative of my emphasis on the gifts of Fours, who are often innovative thinkers, able to see things from a fresh perspective, and understandably frustrated when others can't see what they see. 

This was precisely why Phil had been blocked from finishing his dissertation, which relied on approval by two separate and somewhat mutually exclusive academic disciplines, both of which were also quite conservative. Phil was feeling the angst of trying to satisfy the status quo considerations of both departments, which mirrored a dynamic I often see with Fours they try to explain things from a new slant, only to be frustrated by resistance from people who are still operating in an old paradigm.

I likened the two disciplines to railroad stations. One would only accept blue cars, the other would only accept red cars. "If you believe the blue car can add something, but you want it to be accepted at the red station, you need to paint it red. Once you get the car into the red station, it will be easier to show its blue value."

The same was true, of course, for having a red car accepted at the blue station, and Phil was inspired by this metaphor to create his own way to bridge the intellectual barriers between departments.