Communication

History brought to life through stories

The books I love to read are historical fiction. Historical because I get to learn stuff about my ancestors, things that happened to humans long ago, historical events like wars and discoveries. Fiction because more than dates and accounts of “what actually happened,” I get pulled into “what could have actually happened.” I get to meet actual people with real life dramas. They just happen to have lived long ago.

The fiction part turns history into stories. That makes history come alive for me. The drama, the betrayal, the loyalty, the tragedy, the triumph, the secrets, the life-changing decisions that people make. This makes it really fun for me, and relatable. I can see myself in the stories. It’s hard for me to see myself in dates and facts. But I can see how a person in a story is facing the same kinds of things that I am, although in a different age.

The history part of historical fiction reminds me that humans have been through this before, and worse. Of course Americans have not gone through the same things as the Chinese or Romans or other empires, but certainly the same types of things. Always with different settings and different players, yet many societies have faced dramatic political uncertainty much like America today. Many societies have feared scarcity of resources. Many societies have endured pandemics.

As a younger man I toured the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. I stumbled out onto the sidewalk afterwards and cried uncontrollably. If you don’t know, Anne Frank was a Jewish girl hiding with her family during the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam. You think our lockdowns are bad? For 761 days Anne and her family lived in a secret part of house behind a bookcase. It’s a remarkable story that shows me how things could be. Check out her story here.

And this is just one story. One. There are millions of such stories in other times and places. And these stories are happening today. They are even happening in America right among us. People are trapped in their houses or apartments. People are prisoners in abusive relationships. People are in hiding. People are desperately hungry. People fear for their lives.

Reading such stories – even tragic stories – gives me strange comfort. I think it’s because I get to see I’m not alone. I’m not the only one who has been through stuff like this. I get to see what it means to be human. I feel a sense of belonging.

And I get to see that actually, things aren’t so different today. Or so bad. And I get to see how my ancestors handled the tragedies they were handed. I learn coping skills.

And I learn that today’s tragedies are not my fault. The historical characters in the stories before me didn’t ask for their tragedies either. History is just human nature over and over again.

I am in awe of authors who can bring me history though stories. Thank you.

Good news is worth paying for

In last week’s Craig’s Weekly (my eNewsletter), I recommended a Wall Street Journal article on how to have hard conversations. Some of you wrote to me that you couldn’t access the article. My apologies. I figured that if someone didn’t have a subscription or ability to buy one, they would at least be able to register with the Wall Street Journal and get free access.

Although admittedly I had another thought too: this article is worth paying for.

We are quick to complain about poor quality or biased news, even fake news. Yet we are also quick to expect our news to be free, like on Facebook. But don’t you get what you pay for?

I currently have paid subscriptions to the Wall Street Journal, The Economist, The New York Times, and Yes!. I’m not trying to be a news snob here. And I get that I am very privileged to be able to buy these. What I am trying to do is model that I am prepared to pay for good, trustworthy news.

If a credible news source – The Wall Street Journal for example – wants me to sign up for a free trial just so I can read just one article, I think that’s fine. The Wall Street Journal has to support a huge infrastructure — staff, buildings, equipment — for quality news investigation and reporting. And they have a huge reputation to protect. That has value. To access that value I’m willing to let them try to convince me how good their paper is for a month, and I have to remember to cancel before they start charging me.

Sign-ups and payment schemes vary, but you get the idea. Inaccurate or intentionally misleading news is usually free. Trustworthy news has a cost.

A way to talk

Good Group Tips

In principle, in order for people to avoid conflict there has to be a way for them to talk. When in tension with someone else in my group, rather than talk with them directly, it is easiest to assume a superior position and take steps to prove my righteousness. It is also relatively easy to propose changes to the system in which we both operate: new rules, new policies, new ways of doing things that I think will make the tension go away. But both of these approaches create conflict and/or burden for my group.

Sometimes the barrier to direct communication is of a mechanical nature such as language or physical proximity or connection. But most often the barrier is our own fear about having a hard conversation. We don’t trust ourselves to say the right things or react the right ways. We are afraid that in a one-on-one setting we will lose the battle we are trying to win.

Practical Tip: Don’t view tensions as battles to be won or lost but rather as shared problems to be solved in shared ways. Before doing anything else, seek first to find a way to talk with those who are part of the problem.

If there are mechanical barriers to talking, work to fix them. In today’s world, going to war because one party can’t physically communicate with another is no excuse. If there are personal emotional barriers in the way, work to fix them. You are part of the problem; have a talk with yourself. Creating conflict or requiring your group to consider systemic changes because of your own emotional issues is selfish and inefficient.

And if someone else proposes a way to talk with you about a shared problem, accept the opportunity. Always talk first. Find a way.

– Craig Freshley

Click here for one-page PDF of this Tip, a great way to print or share.

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