Week 1: The Stories Begin!

Posted by Liam Chai on Jun 16, 2016
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From across the United States, over the pond to Ireland, England and Spain. All the way to Lebanon and India. This week marks the start of our June 2016 Laddership Circles.



After a minute silence, Mihir kicks things off with a deep share as a new rockstar anchor. “Why am I here? What is the purpose of my life? Where am I going? What is the truth?” He reflects about how what he is actually looking for is something unknown. And that he is actually “trying to explore if and how I can be free from the known, and what it means to be rooted in the unknown.

With an intro like that, the first call of the Laddership looks prime to be a good one ;-)

John calling in from Ireland, noted how he arrived here after meeting Shamash from our last Laddership Circle. He shares about believing “your greatest asset is your story, and that when you strip it all back our story is all we have.” He reflected on how he believed in the power of story and the ability to curate it, but today this is felt much stronger in him. “I know what I know is nothing, but what I want to know is everything

Dialing in from Spain, Joserra also noted about his journey of discovery. Being in the Gandhi Ashram, he shares about experimenting with gifts, offerings, building community and offering without expectation - "just giving time, giving love and seeing what comes out of that." Taking those experiences, he's brought it back to Spain - starting Karma Kitchens, Awakin' Circles and cultivating a network of noble friendship. For his interview on the theme of stories, he spoke with a Buddhist monk, he reflects "I'm thinking about what path I should walk. I don't know about becoming a monk of a particular discipline but for sure having a strong and committed life to my own practices [is important] so it was beautiful to meet him."

Laurie from Pennsylvania shared how several years ago "I was at a point in my life where I could not hear another piece of bad news, I felt like I was injecting it toxic into my veins." She felt there had to be good news somewhere, so she searched "good news" and the DailyGood turned up. "I swear it was a lifeline for me." After starting World in Conversations and having a new advisory panel that she felt had become corporate and all about scaling, she remarks, “the person I need on this advisory council is Nipun Mehta! I don't even know him but I need him!” In a moment of serendipity, three months ago Nipun did a talk at PennState and ended up meeting Laurie.

Replying to Audrey's share about Laddership not being a social entrepreneur incubator, and also not a monastery, Meghna reflects "I am definitely not an entrepreneur. I'm definitely not on the way to becoming a monk. So I think for me this works perfectly in the middle." Being surrounded by souls of service within the ecosystem in Ahmedabad there is so much wisdom shared. "My maternal grandparents were part of the freedom movement with Gandhi, so I've grown up receiving these stories... I realised if I want to be a part of this community I have to first keep my foundations strong in order to serve."

Rina, calling from the suburbs of Philadelphia, reflects "it's crazy how the world works, I had no idea that six months after being in touch with Audrey that I would have ended up being in Manav Sadhna, that I would have ended up coming to Awakin' Circles. The universe has a very weird way of working and bringing things to you when you least expect it." Something called her to leave Philadelphia and leave all the projects she was working on at the time to go see the world, backpacking in Southeast Asia for six months. “Something was calling me to go back to the roots, go back to nature. Go back to everything I had known I needed, but didn’t really know at the time."

Samar, who lives in Beirut, called In from a stairwell in a Buddhist centre in London. She shares, “Something hit me really hard about five years ago and I have absolutely no idea what it was and where I'm going. It just cleaned me out. I’ve never been so afraid in my life... I have absolutely no idea where I am going. None. I’m driving my family crazy.” She continues, "Everything has changed, the way I smell, the way I think. I don’t want to stay in my job anymore. I’m trying to get out of it gracefully... I want to live differently, but I can't find anyone around me who is really committed to volunteerism and living with love and compassion." She's joined the Laddership because she wants to put things in motion - to learn about the energy needed to sustain projects in Beirut rooted in love and compassion over the long-term.

Ani has been involved with ServiceSpace since 2012. After meeting Nipun in London she said "I am going to just start Awakin’ Circles.. So that's what I've been doing with ServiceSpace since 2012." Since she took the plunge out of the corporate world nearly 10 years ago. It has been such a beautiful experience. "I was not looking to be on this path, I stumbled on it. It’s been a journey of learning about myself. I really want to grow. I’m not sure what is itching inside of me, but when I’ve been reading the canvas' and everyone’s projects - there is something in me that is coming alive. There is something that really wants to jump out and start shooting, but I’m not sure what it is”

Dialing in from New Jersey, Bill recalls "a moment I had in the corporate world where I spent many years thinking about my job as ‘how to create value’ for the consumer, the company and those associated with it. One day I realised that the corporate structure I was in wasn’t looking to create value, they were looking to maximise their own. I felt like I was an instrument of evil, and I resigned. I didn’t consult with my wife, didn’t put much thought into it. I just did it. It was an interesting time for myself to think about my own future, the future of my family and where I wanted to go.” After this, a close friend had an idea which they began to cultivate. Then he started studying philosophy, the science of emotions and social behaviour. In looking for a real world example of how things may be different, he stumbled upon ServiceSpace and decided to reach out to find out how he could be a part of it.

Then we went to popcorn style sharing on the theme of stories. Nipun started with the neurological impact of stories. He shared the six word story of Ernest Hemingway: "For sale: baby shoes, never worn." And how a story can change cortisol and oxytocin levels, evoke a sense of awe and activate the vagus nerve. "Study after study finds that stories are far more persuasive than just sharing the facts."

Laurie shared, "My life is a story. So why don't I write a new narrative for my life?" She echoed Samar's thoughts about something hitting her so hard, leaving her to completely drop any writing she used to do. Then Rina asked, "how could we shift the narrative of the redevelopment of Philadelphia?" She reflected about the power of storytelling to share our commonality as human beings.

Samar countered that she was not so convinced about stories. "I've been thinking a lot more about the self. Discovering what we truly are. I think if we don't know that, there's no story that can save us. I personally find that stories outlive themselves really really quickly. They somehow don't seem to be working."

Bill offered an incredible story of his origin - his grandfather taking a ship from Spain to Cuba, befriended a woman in a wheelchair while on the ship. When he arrived in Cuba, with $5 in his pocket and the clothes on his back, he gets tackled by two men, and at the point of being the most scared in his life. They stopped. The two men were the sons of the woman he befriended. A year later his grandfather would go on to America.

Ani then shared about how stories can connect communities. She shared sharing stories of women in India living in the slums with a group of homeless women in the UK and vice versa. "You could actually see the connection, and the entropy that was going from one to the other."

Joserra shared about how indigenous cultures respected stories. "Stories don't force the truth onto people, like laws, norms or affirmations, but they are more like a trustful offering which holds no expectation." Laurie then shared about the potential of story to heal, "When people hear each other's stories, there is some kind of wholeness about it that they can see in the person opposite them." She then added that stories can be used purposefully to mislead too. Meghna shared concerns about how "the tool of media is a double edged sword." She shared a story of teaching women how to use cameras to empower them, but how they could also end up abusing it too.

John added that there are actually infinite sides to a story, not just two sides. He also reflected, "if you could spread good news and people's stories of kindness and good in the world, that maybe that could start a ripple and maybe that could inspire other people to be the change."

Audrey concluded the call with observations about how geese fly. Using a V formation, they increase their flying range by at least 70 percent than if each bird flew on its own. And in a similar fashion, being together in this Laddership we lift each other up to help us all embody being the change we wish to see in the world.   

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Comments (3)

  • Mihir Kaji wrote ...

    Wow...thanks for this wonderful recap Liam!

  • Ani Devlia wrote ...

    Liam, this recap is helpful and refreshing. Hearing the sharings again through your written words make them go even deeper. :)

  • Samar Zebian wrote ...

    Dear all, I mentioned (in a message to Audrey) in our sunday meeting that there is anthropological evidence that cultures put checks and balances on the story telling process to avoid being manipulated by story tellers proficient at altering or exaggerating commitments to certain beliefs. There is considerable evidence that many societies make sure that there is a fit between the story and the speakers actions, especially when counter intuitive beliefs are involved. The counterintuitive beliefs presented by a model or story teller don't spread unless the story teller engages in costly behaviour, i.e, they practice what they preach, i.e., they walk the talk. For example, important leaders and story tellers in religious groups must engage in costly behaviours (i.e., prayer, fasting, celibacy, giving away wealth, and other forms of renunciation etc...). In Lebanon, our leaders/story tellers (basically this is how I see them) all have family members who have chosen to be martyrs or have been killed for their beliefs. Some perspective and evidence along these lines are summarised in the following paper: Scott Atran and Joseph Henrich, (2010). The evolution of religion: how cognitive by-products, adaptive learning heuristics, ritual displays and group competition generate deep commitments to prosocial religions