You can’t see the nose on your face

Stories Exchange Project Workshop #3EastWest InstitutePrague28 February 2000
Mitchell ChanelisAssistant Project Coordinator
It’s very interesting about telling stories. Until you tell them, sometimes you find you don’t know the story yourself. When I have to tell a story about myself, I find out things about myself and everybody else. When I tell my story to somebody else I have to think about what parts of it may mean, and it all becomes new for me: it’s new information. I think this is one way that stories can help us: they do more than convey information about ourselves to other people; they’re also sources of self-knowledge.
I came to the Stories Exchange Project because I had discovered in working with people for good causes – all very worthy causes, such as human rights, the environment, social and economic development – that there was a big problem.
There are of course major problems in all those fields, one of them being inequality and injustice in society and pollution of the environment: all those horrible things out there.
But something that’s more difficult to deal with, I think, is that sometimes the people you are working with, the people who share your values and goals: these people can be your worst enemies. And their own.
They believe in all the right things, but they don’t really like themselves or each other.
Sometimes I think that they – that we – believe the right things and want to help people and change the world just because they don’t – WE don’t – like ourselves or the world.
That’s not a great place to start from.
So I had to come to the realization that – what was I doing? Here I was working for these noble enterprises and I found myself very unhappy, not able to feel that I was right or that I was with the right people.
People usually say, “Well, it’s the goals that are important. If you have problems with people, you should lay them aside, because the goals are so important. The main thing is the goal that you’re trying to reach.” But over the years I’ve some to the conclusion that that’s not true. If you don’t have good relations with yourself, with your family, with your friends, with the people you’re working with to make a better world, then you can’t do anything of really lasting value. The goals and the means really are connected.
The question is how do you do that: how do you pay as much creative attention to the means as to the goals. What is closest to home is sometimes the most difficult. We have a saying in English “you can’t see the nose on your face. “
For me the Stories Exchange Project has been a way to start the process of learning how to deal with people in a meaningful way. People who are my friends, people who are not my friends. What I want out of the Project, and what working to develop the Project over the last eight or nine years has given me is skill in working with other people to achieve my goals, our goals.