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  • More about story's power

    On page 42 of this week’s Newsweek magazine there’s a short essay by Sharon Begley titled Heard Any Good Stories Lately? You can also find the text here.

    This is a wonderful example of how stories have become increasingly powerful in our culture and through what means they exert that power. This has been the subject of a recent thread here and, in our business, this subject is growing in significance. At least, it seems so to me.

    I’d also like to link a thread titled Story and Narrative here. It was begun in January of ’07 and I think we should revisit it in light of the Newsweek article today.

    Let’s see how this goes
    Barrett L. Dorko

  • #2
    It's interesting to me the people that Begley's talking about who are emotionally susceptible to the current stories being created. Essentially people who, given a stark difference in candidates, haven't made up their minds who they're voting for yet.

    The so-called "independent" voters, who are looking for someone to "like."

    I wonder how many of these people know the capital of Czechoslovakia, or the year the Constitution was ratified, or to what event the term "D-Day" refers. Although, I'm confident many of them know the names of Brittany's and Jamie Lynne's children.

    In other words, individuals armed with so few relevant facts, they require emotion or emotionally charged trivia to provide an impetus for action.

    When I interview patients like this, I have a hard time suffering their self-absorption.

    I like Toad the Wet Sprocket's take on story-telling:

    Now dont ask me questions or I will retreat
    Fame is a cancer and ego its seed
    Now I wasnt looking for heaven or hell
    Just someone to listen to stories I tell
    Last edited by John W; 19-09-2008, 03:04 AM. Reason: typo
    John Ware, PT
    Fellow of the American Academy of Orthopedic Manual Physical Therapists
    "Nothing can bring a man peace but the triumph of principles." -R.W. Emerson
    “If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot
    be carried on to success.” -The Analects of Confucius, Book 13, Verse 3


    • #3
      Precisely, John.

      (Just to be picky, the country is no longer called Czechoslovakia )

      USA citizens generally may know a lot about their country, but according to the polls that appear in science mags and other media here, they would have great difficulty knowing anything about how other cultures think and behave - or even where their country is.
      Apparently half of Congress do not own passports, and 68% of the population believes in angels (from newspaper articles here).

      Hearing a story from a derelict tramp would not be too credible, but from a well-dressed politician or bank's different. It does seem to have a lot to do with who presents the story, rather than the story itself, unless that story is sensed to fill up gaps.



      • #4

        I agree entirely, but given that the popular culture generates far more interest and remembrance than, say, actual reality, we must adapt to its power. It's not all that hard to figure out what occupies the mind of the patient or how it is they go about communicating. It only took me about twenty years of practice to get a handle on this but I realize now that I wasn't aware of how important this was. I figure that with a little thoughtfulness it would have only taken about fifteen.

        My students will tell you that I know an inordinate amount about TV and the movies from the fifties to today. I can recall so much that they become suspicious about how much study and writing and clinical work I actually do. Given that I can recite lines from The King and I and then tell you who won Project Runway last season I sometimes wonder myself.

        I will confess that what I have is a gift, I guess, and, fortunately for me, this helps me relate to a variety of patients. As I work manually I will often discuss the antics of Groucho Marx right after telling a story about the chorale direction of Robert Shaw.

        All of this is done in story form and colored by the emphasis I wish to make at the moment.

        In the end, everybody benefits.
        Barrett L. Dorko


        • #5
          First, I have to say I was very surprised to see Joe leave Project Runway this week (sorry if I spoiled that for anyone.) Suede had nothing on him except that Suede may be better fodder for stories than Joe, who was a little plain.

          Barrett, in your Story and Narrative thread I thought this was notable:

          So, I’d conclude that an effective diagnostician turns the patient’s story into narrative and then repeats it back to them in a fashion that satisfies the needs of everyone involved – not always an easy thing to do – and the therapist needs to do this at the proper moment and at the proper pace as well.
          I've reflected on where I might screw up in this process. I think I get the story-->narrative step although I've got room for improvement.

          It seems that the narrative we repeat back to the patient is done in the form of story if I'm not mistaken. Regardless, I'm embarrassingly under gunned in the "repeats it back to them in a fashion that satisfies the needs of everyone involved" department. At least I think so. One reason I say this is that when listening to a patient's new story at a subsequent visit I'll often hear a narrative that I did not convey, or did not mean to convey. My choice is to try to tell the same story again or try a new one and I don't always have a new one to tell. I'm starting to collect some of my own but your essays certainly help fill those gaps.
          "I did a small amount of web-based research, and what I found is disturbing"--Bob Morris


          • #6
            Translating evidence into practice

            The good folks over at RadioLab give some insight into how they go about this translation process. Making the Hippo Dance.

            Dance Hippo Dance!
            "I did a small amount of web-based research, and what I found is disturbing"--Bob Morris


            • #7

              Wonderful link. I just listened to the podcast while walking Buckeye and replayed the first few minutes twice.

              It's funny how often I seem to be doing something in preparation for a change before I actually know what the change will be. I've altered my Power Point presentation massively - eliminating text and adding images. I can see now that this follows precisely Radio Lab's notion that "great but dense and unfriendly ideas" can be conveyed in ways that are far more difficult to resist than the typical lecture format.

              The main unfriendly, dense but great idea I'm trying to transform in this way is the neuromatrix theory of pain.

              Next, allegory, metaphor and Star Trek.
              Barrett L. Dorko


              • #8
                Barrett, I will greatly appreciate that! First, it's a bitch to translate into French. That's most of my patients. Second, it's hard to use in English.
                Guess learning is a lifestyle, not a passtime.
                Those people who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do. ~ Isaac Asimov


                • #9
                  Consider this copy of a synopsis of a Star Trek episode.

                  Then we'll talk.

                  The U.S.S. Enterprise receives a signal from "The Children of Tama," an alien race that has no history of violence, but whose language has been deemed "incomprehensible" to humans. Hovering above an uninhabited planet, Picard and the crew hope to establish relations with the Tamarians. But while he and Dathon, the Tamarian captain, make several attempts to communicate over their viewscreens, neither can understand the other. Suddenly Dathon turns to him, armed with two daggers, and both captains dematerialize and are transported to the surface of the planet below.

                  Riker and the crew are dismayed to find all access to Picard is blocked by a field set up by the Tamarians. On the planet's surface, Dathon continues to offer Picard one of his daggers, but Picard refuses on the grounds that this could be an act of war. Dathon is friendly, however, and offers Picard fire against the evening's chill, allowing Picard to sleep. Hours later, Picard wakes up to find Dathon missing. He looks through his personal belongings to get some clue as to what makes the alien tick, but is interrupted by Dathon's voice and the roar of an animal.

                  Pursued by a large, shimmering beast, Dathon again offers Picard his dagger and this time Picard accepts. As the two captains struggle to communicate in order to fight effectively, Picard hypothesizes that the Tamarians communicate by example, and the proper names and places they cite are references to situations in their history. Picard is then able to begin to communicate with Dathon, and the alien responds enthusiastically to his efforts.

                  When Riker dispatches a shuttlecraft to the planet's surface to retrieve Picard, the Tamarians stop it by firing their weapons. Meanwhile, Picard and Dathon set about fighting the creature, but their efforts are interrupted by the U.S.S. Enterprise's continuing quest to transport Picard back on board. He momentarily dematerializes, and Dathon is struck by the beast. As the alien lies dying, Picard realizes that the situation of two leaders joining to fight a common enemy is part of Tamarian mythology, and suddenly understands that Dathon brought him to the planet specifically to fight the beast with him and begin relations between their societies.

                  The crew finally transports Picard back aboard, and he avoids war with the angry Tamarians by using what he has learned to communicate with them. In their own language, he tells them how their captain died and expresses his admiration for the man. The adventure behind him, Picard is left to wonder if he, too, would sacrifice his own life simply for the hope of communication with other beings.
                  Barrett L. Dorko


                  • #10
                    Just a bit of rambling here...

                    Picard is left to wonder if he, too, would sacrifice his own life simply for the hope of communication with other beings.
                    Sacrifice is a tradition in some groups. It can take the form of service, in which one continues to live in this life. Or one can be sacrificed through the decisions and actions of others. Some jobs are like this.

                    Do we hope to communicate or do we assume that we communicate?

                    How much of ourselves are we willing to communicate, or to give to communicate?
                    Do we even want to communicate?

                    according to Webster: communicate--making common to all what one presently possesses (part of the definition)

                    Who is supposed to make the "sacrifice" for our success in communication--the person making the communication or the person receiving it?

                    Guess learning is a lifestyle, not a passtime.
                    Those people who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do. ~ Isaac Asimov


                    • #11
                      It is the finding of a "common ground" that enables communication - or at least facilitates the process. It takes one or both participants to desire that common ground, and to put a large effort in accomplishing that.

                      If the message itself has overwhelming importance for one of them, the actual communication connection becomes harder to find - impatience, frustration, aggressive action all reduce the opportunity - just like Riker and the crew.
                      Patience and a level of trust are essential aspects.
                      We don't see things as they are, we see things as WE are - Anais Nin

                      I suppose it's easier to believe something than it is to understand it.
                      Cmdr. Chris Hadfield on rise of poor / pseudo science

                      Pain is a conscious correlate of the implicit perception of threat to body tissue - Lorimer Moseley

                      We don't need a body to feel a body. Ronald Melzack


                      • #12
                        Suppose I were to say to you, “Lincoln at Gettysburg.” I feel certain that the therapists having grown up in the US here would be immediately aware of images, remembrances and some common sense of the situation and its enduring historical significance. Quite often they will conjure up feelings of solemnity, gravity and admiration for a variety of people involved in the whole of the conflict.

                        Are you beginning to see what metaphor and allegory can do for communication? This is how the Tamarians convey everything, apparently, and, I find it fascinating. What I especially like is how it cuts through all of the excessive, trivial and essentially unnecessary speech often used to impart a simple thought. Such talk truly irritates me. I know that my capacity for it is a function of my personality variant, but I find the general subject of clinical storytelling confronts this directly, and writing about it helps.

                        In the Star Trek episode Captain Picard has to deduce the meanings of Dathon’s allegories without knowing their historical significance. He does this by examining the context of each situation in which he hears them. A remarkable feat but quite possible if you’re smart enough, I guess. And Picard is always smart enough.

                        I think that this context is the common ground Mary and Bas refer to and wonder how we might use it in the clinic. (please note that the link in this line was something I wrote in December ’07)

                        Might we find similar stories familiar to our patients; stories that communicate a lot with a very few words?

                        Next: The Hammerlock
                        Barrett L. Dorko


                        • #13
                          Barrett, I think you would like communicating in the Chinese language. I’ve taken a few classes and while not an expert in anyway, find communication by metaphor and allegory a central part of this language. I have friends who are fluent and who have spent time in China report that knowing the stories of historical or fabled events are critical for a deeper level of conversation (other than "which way to the bathroom"). I personally found that In Chinese, I had to try to understand the culture not just the words more than any Latin based language I studied.
                          Christopher Bryhan MPT

                          "You are more likely to learn something by finding surprises in your own behavior then by hearing surprising facts about people in general"
                          Daniel Kahneman - Thinking Fast and Slow


                          • #14
                            Thanks Chris. I’ll keep that in mind. Am I going to see you in Seattle in a couple of weeks?

                            Late in the episode cited Picard tells Dathon the Epic of Gilgamesh, adding something to this man’s understanding and using metaphor effectively.

                            I realize today that I always do something similar while teaching. I choose someone and ask them, “Do you remember the last time you got arrested and they put you in a hammerlock? This example leads me to speak of pain’s origin, resolution, instinctive responses and autonomic effects. A few hours later all I have to say is , “It’s (whomever) in the hammerlock."

                            By then it should be understood and several things fall into place when I say these few words. Me and Captain Picard.

                            Anybody out there do something similar?
                            Barrett L. Dorko


                            • #15
                              Here is Jay O'Callahan demonstrating the power of storytelling. Hat tip: The Imaginary Foundation
                              "I did a small amount of web-based research, and what I found is disturbing"--Bob Morris