Breaking the Logjam

Published on July 13, 2020.

Of the many lessons we are learning from this pandemic, one is clear to me: we don’t listen to each other enough. We don’t listen to scientists or public health experts. We don’t listen to people we disagree with. We don’t allow people to talk without jumping in with our own opinions before they can even finish. We “zoom out” in meetings to check our cellphones or multitask, just when we should be “zooming in.”

Like many others, I have used the Talking Stick, common to many Indigenous cultures, that ensures a code of conduct as people talk. The person holding the stick, and only that person, is designated as having the right to speak and all others must listen quietly and respectfully.

We need to do some serious listening now. It starts with people being able to tell their stories.

To get people comfortable telling their own stories, one exercise I use is called “The Three Stepping Stones.” It involves people identifying three stepping stones, or life events that have brought them to working for social justice today. 

I started using it when I faced a logjam of my own.

Some time ago, I was asked to lead a workshop for media communicators at the last minute.  As I drove to the gathering, I wondered why I had ever agreed.  I had no idea what I was going to do with these experienced communicators. 

I arrived in a panic but then I saw a garden filled with river stones.  I gathered a bunch of stones in my shirt, intending to return them all at the end of the workshop.

When the group came into my workshop, I asked them each to pick three stones and to think of three stepping stones, or life events, that brought them to the work they were doing for justice.  Then people went into small groups of four, with 15 minutes each to tell their stories. 

Afterwards, many people talked about how powerful it was for them to hear each other and to tell their own stories.  One woman asked if she could take the stones home with her to tell these stories to her husband of 30 years and her family.  She had never shared her powerful, life-changing events with them. 

Telling each other our stories is one of the most powerful things we can do to organize deeply and profoundly.  It reinforces the importance of our work in a way that people can connect to and understand.

And just for the record, I did return the stones to the garden at the end of the workshop, though minus several stones people had took back home with them!

Read my series on storytelling by following the below links.

Stepping Stones – Storytelling – Part 1

Stepping Stones – After the KKK Attack – Storytelling – Part 2

Stepping Stones – The Family Stories We Tell About Ourselves – Storytelling – Part 3


One response to “Breaking the Logjam”

  1. […] my blog, “Breaking the Logjam,” I relate where the idea for “stepping stones” came from, and how I used my stories to break […]

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