We could be heroes

March 20, 2022

This is the story of what happened at an event on 17 and 18 March 2022 when I asked a few people to come together and reflect with me on how we might make a small difference. It was called “We could be heroes”.

Just for one day, for twenty-four hours, we gathered together last week. Fourteen people who had an untold story. A story they may not have shared ordinarily, but perhaps a story that they needed to share.

We spoke at length about storytelling and the messages of change, kindness and opportunity we hoped the world might hear from people of influence. We spoke of our own concerns and vulnerabilities, and of our feelings of helplessness and of powerlessness in the face of enormous world events.

But then we made a commitment. It was a commitment to put our small stories into the world, like pebbles thrown on a pond. Pebbles to make ripples that would gently move away from us and reach places we might never see.

We did not set out to be inspirational, that would be an uncomfortable ambition for most people; and wrapping ourselves in a cloak of self-regard only keeps our own ego warm. However, to share a story is also a permission for others to hear their story reflected in the world. That is a precious thing to do. While we may not change the world with our words, our stories might help someone change their world.

Having made a commitment to tell our stories, we also resolved to tell our stories well. We therefore helped each other find the colours and the pictures and the appeal. We experimented with how to craft a message so that it lands wrapped as a gift of our experience and love, and with the hope that it will be easy to unfurl and understand.

We coached ourselves not to make our stories heavy with clichés or lost in cold, hard, colourless noises. We left behind words that were empty of empathy and corrupted by corporate life’s soulless over-use. There was no need to be synthetic and tortured by finding clever vocabulary, so instead we allowed our child-like voice to show that we care, to show that we need to be cared for too, and to learn that together we have a world of opportunity in which to make our difference.

I promise you that the stories we then told each other will enrich my life forever, and they will I hope enrich the lives for all who will one day hear them too.

What did we say, we few who looked ordinary, who sounded ordinary and who came together not knowing what to say or how to say it? Well, let me tell you what brilliant and beautiful sounds were made. The following words are brief and inelegant compared to what was said in the room, but they are written with love for the people who came.

There was the story of one man’s Russian-born wife and the joyous family party in Moscow when he asked for her hand in marriage. His wife now gripped with pain for Ukraine and for what her nation has become at the hands of a malevolent few.

The story of the meandering butler gently sharing advice about a career where the wanderer found joy in each and every step taken, curious only for the moment to be explored, and not for what might come next.

There was a plea from a man disillusioned with his recent career turns, but now determined to change our unkind, leaderless workplaces so they become environments for us to grow and share, not places to cower and hide.

We heard of the agony of a woman whose life had been gripped by early menopause, where her bones felt broken and her words could not be spoken as meaning slipped from her life like a balloon floating away from her once assured grasp.

There was the story of a party for a sole surviving grandparent celebrating her birthday and cherishing the love for her family now especially that it was enriched with twinkling mischief in her eye.

Then a story of another woman overcoming a debilitating condition that framed her life, to then becoming stronger than she had ever imagined and finding a power-pose to fight for a life that was meaningful and full at last.

To the story of a child who said she could not focus with her undiagnosed ADHD and to her father humbled by his daughter’s strength to overcome her condition and his vulnerability that she should not carry a label for life. Both, however, now freed by her bravery and his love.

To the woman who thought she cared too much, but knew in the end that this was her super-power to be used while others caught up.

To the story of a man who as a child was regularly beaten into terrified tears by his own father, now quietly cuddling his son through illness and thereby breaking mental chains that he had carried all his life.

To the funeral of a colleague taken by cancer, whose orphaned disabled son will not now have a dad to dress him each morning. A colleague thanked in a letter from the company chairman for his dedication, but a company that did not allow him to work from home to spend more time with his son.

To a wounded pigeon trapped in a kitchen, imprisoned by an overly ambitious cat, but released to recover its freedom and its life, and perhaps a metaphor for a people fighting for their homeland and their lives not so far away.

Each story was heartfelt, kind, generous and true. Each story, heroic in the telling, and shared not to shine a light on the storyteller, but to illuminate a path for others to tread with more confidence in their story too.

We listened and we laughed and we cried. Goodness me did we cry; but we shared these stories and we made them our small, beautiful pebbles to throw onto our ponds.

The ripples will now carry our love and our hopes for others to find. We could be heroes, and not just for one day.

Take care. Paul xx

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