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Once upon a time, in Ancient Phrygia there was a king. His name was Midas and even today few people have not heard of him. Now Midas’s joy in life rested on the amassing of wealth – in particular, the collection of gold. And this was – almost – his un-doing.

One day, when he was pruning the beautiful roses in his world-renowned garden, he was thinking about his money – and how to make more. Brooding over this, he was totally unaware of the sixty lovely blooms that each rose bush offered but, all at once, he caught sight of an old man asleep under a tree. The old man’s name was Silenus and he had come from the court of the god of wine and ritual madness, Dionysus.

‘Could there be a profit in this?’ Midas wondered and instantly thought of a cunning plan.

For the next ten days, he treated Silenus like a king. Then he took him back to Dionysus, knowing how grateful Dionysus would be for the care lavished on his old servant.

‘Midas, I will grant you any wish!’ said the god – who had his own cunning plan.

‘Lord, may anything I touch be turned to gold?’ came Midas’s immediate reply.

‘Such greed could be dangerous,’ warned Dionysus, but, true to his word, he granted the wish.

With delight, Midas touched a tree and it turned to gold. With growing excitement, he touched the walls of his palace and they turned to gold. But then, he touched his horse, then his servant, then his food and finally his much-loved daughter. And all turned to cold, hard, gold.

Midas began to starve. His cold bed was hard and he could not sleep. But most of all, he missed his daughter. He missed her love and he missed her chatter and he missed the way she put her arms around him and hugged him. At last – in extreme suffering and running mad with loneliness – Midas went back to Dionysus.

‘Please, lord, un-grant my wish!’ he pleaded.

Dionysus laughed but decided to take pity on the wretch before him.

‘Go and bathe in the river Pactolus,’ he advised.

King Midas went to the river. But he had now learned caution. ‘What if – when I get into the water, it turns to gold. – it kills me?’ he thought

So, he devised another cunning plan.

First of all, he filled a small jug and washed one small part of himself that he could do without – the tiniest patch on the very tip of his beard. At once, the gold washed away into the River Pactolus – which even to this day is renowned for its golden sands.

But, when King Midas saw this, he was so relieved. And then he carried jug after jug of river water back to his palace. He washed his daughter, his servants, his horse and the whole palace. He did not stop work until everything and everyone was back to normal. And everyone could live happily ever after.

The god, Dionysus, smiled.

Making a story relevant for a group of potential leaders

Here are some questions for discussion in pairs/triads and whole groups (in the same or from different organisations)

Empowerment of the individual

  1. What is the moral of the story?
  2. Can you relate the moral of the story to your own life?
  3. What is your ‘gold’? Can you see the danger and can you see the attraction of it?
  4. Can you think of an incident in your own life illustrating the moral of the Midas Story?
  5. Would you like to change the ending of the Midas story or your own story? Re-write.

The Leadership Skill of Empathy building  

  1. Can you imagine situations from another person’s point of view? An example of this is a poem by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy entitled Mrs Midas
  2. Whose viewpoint is most important in the story of Midas?
  3. Could you tell the story from another character’s point of view?
  4. Rewrite either ‘Midas’ or your own story from someone else’s point of view.
  5. How do you feel when you think about someone else’s point of view?
  6. How could this skill of imagining how others think and feel be useful for you in your work?

 

 Lizzie Gates, Lonely Furrow Company, 2012

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When bees want to tell other bees where they will find a new source of nectar, they do a little dance in front of the hive. Enlightened by this, the other bees then fly off in the direction they’ve been ‘told’ will be useful. And not a word is spoken – or buzzed.This is body language par excellence.But, even as mere humans, we have used body language all our lives to communicate what words alone cannot. We are programmed to use it well, and communication with our parents sets us on the road to achieving that expertise. So how does it work?

In our daily interactions, we are constantly monitoring body language signals – ‘tells’ – while listening to what others are saying. As a result, communication depends on body language more than words. Someone has actually measured this. The percentage is believed to be between 80% and 90%. And, they say, body language does not lie.
But it can be actively manipulated.
In discussions about truth, lies and fiction with my writing and communication clients, I often break the ice by asking the group to play a story-telling game. When the group has divided into pairs, each member of the pair tells the other one element of truth and one element of fiction – without identifying which. Their partner listens attentively, decides which is the true and which is the false of the two pieces of information and introduces his/her partner to the group using this. If they get it wrong, their partner is allowed to correct them and we discuss why. The ice is well and truly broken by then. In this game, the decision about truth (non-fiction) and lies (fiction) is largely based on intuition fed by an unconscious understanding of body language. And upon the ability of the story-teller to manipulate their own body language – otherwise known as Acting.

But body Language is not a trick. It is a fundamental of human communication. As a result, for a variety of business and professional purposes, conscious awareness of body language is a useful tool – for occupations such as law enforcement, recruitment and sales. And this consciousness can be raised by training.
However, sometimes when we are communicating with others, we need to be aware how the body language we have learned and used since birth can work against us. In greeting rituals, for example, usually, we use body language to build relationships. But whereas westerners may appreciate direct eye-to-eye contact and a firm handshake from both men and women, sensitivities may be offended by this in other cultures. Similarly, South Americans like to be physically close to the person they are in conversation with – even in formal situations. And Americans and Brits may prefer a desk between them.
This is why, whatever the situation, the implicit messages of body language merit attention.

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For those who – possibly reluctantly – have to write or speak as part of their work, in Autumn and Winter 2011, Lonely Furrow Company will offer a rolling Continuing Professional Development programme. These will concentrate on special skills required in communication at work – such as story-telling techniques, interview skills, written communication styles and many more.

Lonely Furrow Company Events 

Current Listings:

(All events will take place at The Conservatory, 28 Park West, Heswall, Wirral CH60 9JF unless otherwise stated.)

October 26th 2011 (1pm – 3.30pm) Written Communication Styles  A CPD/Media Coaching workshop (£25)

November 23rd 2011 (1pm – 3.30pm) Body Language – showing not telling  A CPD/Media Coaching workshop (£25)

November 30th 2011 (1pm – 3.30pm) Organisational Story-telling Techniques A CPD workshop (£25)

December 7th 2011 (1pm – 3.30pm) Written Business Commmunications – emails, letters, press releases, articles. A CPD/Media Coaching Workshop (£25)

January 18th 2012 (1pm-3.30pm) Interview Skills A CPD/media coaching workshop. (£25)

Just contact me if you have further questions.

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Over the years, it’s become clear to me that audience impacts on ‘the writer’s voice.’ As a journalist, I found this a simple formula. You give the readership (represented by the editor) the information it needs in language it can understand. But in other forms of writing – and communication – this co-relationship exists in varying degrees of subtlety.

Creative writing is influenced by audience even if – as in journaling – the audience consists of one person. This ‘one person’ may be split into two, creating – optimally – the friendship of your ‘self’ with your inner editor.  But in this raw state or even if you refine your materials into poetry, novels, short fiction or plays, you remain the first and most important member of your ‘audience’ (more…)

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I’ve always lived there. Story-telling is in my blood, you might say. My father – with the dry, spare humour of a Quaker Scot – used to tell us stories about the colourful daily life of a post-war motor trader.

My mother – with the celtic glamour of the Irish – told us tales of our ancestors – St Patrick O’Toole, the Huguenots, the French at Azincourt, the Irish Uncles who lived in Mayo, finally leaving under a cloud because of their Protestant faith. She called these tales from the hearth.

True or not, we believed these stories. They gave us a sense of who we are. And why we are different. And we connect with the people in them –such as old uncle Greg who died long ago holding a photo of me. I don’t remember even meeting him as a child. I only connect through story. But, oh what power these stories have. We are a very close family.

And I have worked with stories for decades. I taught for seven years – using, you guessed it, stories. I have been a journalist for over 25 years finding stories to illustrate the truth. And now, as a coach, I help my clients understand themselves through their own stories. I suppose, story-telling, I’m stuck with it.

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Here are some references for my presentation at the Gurteen Knowledge Cafe, Liverpool, UK

References

1865 Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland Lewis Carroll (Alice meets the Cheshire Cat)

2005 Cinderella to CEO: How to Master the 10 Lessons of Fairy Tales to Transform Your Work Life – by Cary J. Broussard and Anita Bell

1994 Politically Correct Bed-time Stories James Finn Garner. Macmillan, New York. Cinderella goes to the Ball.

The Ship of Fools, The Republic, Plato Book 6.

Background Reading

2008 Effective Organisational Communication (3rd Edition) Richard Blundell and Kate Ippolito Prentice Hall pg 79 – 83  Includes references for practical applications of storytelling in knowledge creation and other areas of communication.

2006 The Story Factor Annette Simmons Basic Books

2007 Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins Annette Simmons. AMACOM

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Every year, on the Isle of Berneray, the selkies, the young seal people, leave the sea for one day only. We take off our sealskins, and dance on the sands, at the water’s edge. We laugh and run and feel a freedom we do not know in our own form. We play at being humans. And, although only for one day, it feels good. A delicious trick.

But, for many generations, our seal mothers and fathers have told us, “Beware the humans who live on these wild islands. They long to be like us – to survive in the sea and know no cold – to play in our world as we can in theirs.”

But we – being young – are not afraid.  We always believe we will win the trick. But – oh, my children – I must tell you the story of how I almost lost you. And of  another grief which came to me instead.

I was the most beautiful of all my sisters and longed to dance on the White Sands with the Prince of Seals, the most handsome and the strongest of his generation.

The Day came. We hauled ourselves out of the turquoise Sea and slid out of our skins. The pile of our pelts grew and grew – black, white, silver, dark brown and mine. Glimmering gold in the sun. The most beautiful you could hope to see.

And then, my children, oh how we danced, your father and I. On sands white as silver against clouds black as steel. We loved our youth. But, then the day was over. My sisters, my brothers, laughing, sought out their skins from the pile.

Then I wept. The skins were gone, my brothers and sisters were gone and I was alone. My beautiful golden skin – it was nowhere to be found. The Prince of Seals was calling me – I could hear him across the waves of the evening sea. His call was lonely. It echoed the loneliness of my own heart. But I could not come back to the sea.

Then, I realised, I would have to find my skin myself. No-one else could help. I curled up on a rock and thought.

Only a human would have had what it took to take my beautiful skin. Certainly, on this lonely, wild island, nothing else had thumbs. But also, nothing else would want to steal something for its beauty, alone. What other use could an empty sealskin serve?

Across the green mounds behind the strand, I could smell the peat fire. Only a human would need  a peat fire. I became sure – my pelt was somewhere near fire. I followed the scent on the air – smoking, bitter, ancient – speaking of earth centuries shared by the sea. Salt in the wind.

My legs pained me to walk. The sun was down to the rim of the now black sea and I, I was desperate to reach the peat fire. The world was suddenly cold, suddenly hostile. Its magic was dying away. I was facing nothing I had ever known.

Then, outlined against the firelight, I saw him. A human, a fisherman, hulked in the darkness, listening to my weeping. “Mortal man!”, I cried out, “mortal man! If you have taken my skin, please give it back to me. Without it, I cannot go home.”

The memory of my Prince of Seals bit into my heart and I wept. But, I was destined to find someone to love me that day. The fisherman led me to his hearth, to his peat fireside, and warmed me with cloth he had woven himself from the wool of the sheep he tended on the Isles and washed with the rain of the Isles’ heaven and dyed with the fruits of the Isles’ rough earth.

I was enchanted. And I stayed. And I bore him a daughter. A beautiful child – entirely perfect – even down to the webs of skin between her tiny fingers and toes. She was so beautiful, your sister. It broke my heart to leave her.

But leave her I did. It happened this way. I loved the fisherman. In my way. I tended him. I tended his cottage. But I could not forget that I did not belong.

Then one day – as I dusted – as human wives do – I saw something gleaming gold in the firelight. Hidden up in the thatch, what I had searched for – all that time – had found me. It was time to go.

At first, I didn’t understand that the choice before me was either/or. I just felt compelled to explore the possibility. I kissed my darling, knowing I was going on an adventure, and would not see her till morning. I ran to the shore, across the white sand and down to the turquoise sea. I drew on my golden pelt, dived from the rocks into the deep and gleaming water and swam towards the setting sun.

After a time, I was aware of a seal swimming alongside me. Your father had waited all those years. And now we could dance again. We reclaimed our sea and I never went back to walk on the land. Which is how you and I come to know each other.

But, I do sometimes swim near the Isle again. And she walks there. And I call to her. She hears the longing in my call. But she does not understand. I call and I call my love to her and she does not understand. . . .

Coaching Questions

1) Which is the most significant moment for you in the story? What are the images, sounds, scents, textures, tastes, feelings you noted at that moment? Write them down.

2) Are there moral issues in this story? What are they? This story is told from the viewpoint of the Seal Wife. Usually, it is told from the viewpoint of the fisherman. How would this alter the moral issues?

3) Memory. Think of a story from your own life – using the prompts of the Isle of Berneray, Hebrides, fishermen and farmers, loneliness. Loneliness – when have you felt lonely? Where is the loneliest place you have been to?

4) Where you belong – your roots (Diversity) Relate this theme to the story. Relate to your own story. Can you translate the story of the Seal Wife into your society, your times?

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