The Power Of Narratives

For each situation or person you encounter, there are a number of different narratives (stories) you can believe. Sometimes we blindly accept a particular narrative without really knowing all the information.

Case in point: When you think of Africa, what comes to mind? For most people, myself included, I usually think of a continent that is ravaged by poverty, AIDS and other diseases, and civil war. Those are indeed concerns, but they are only part of the whole, true story.

Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is one of many Africans working to fight the stereotype of “poverty porn”: “the tactic of media and charities that uses sympathy as a catalyst for monetary gain, exploiting the poor and uneducated, to showcase desperate conditions for an emotional response.” To counter the stereotype as a continental slum, a Somali-American student, Diana Salah, began the social media campaign, #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou.

Check out just a small sample of photos that have been posted with this hashtag on Twitter.

Screen Shot 2015-08-30 at 4.26.13 PMThe thing is, we buy untrue or incomplete narratives all the time. For as many times as conservative Christians get upset about being stereotyped by “the left,” they are usually just as guilty about stereotyping “liberals.” There are competing narratives about the founding of the United States and other significant events in our country’s history. In a church or ministry, there are always at least two sides to every story. Even in our everyday personal lives, it’s easy to accept what we want to be true about a person or situation, rather than what is true, because finding out the reality takes time, effort, and a willingness to learn, to be corrected, even to risk losing approval in your church, family, or friendships.

Be aware of the narratives you accept and perpetuate, and the effect they have on the pursuit of truth.

Why Should Your Organization Exist?

Why does your organization need to exist?

Not why did it need to exist or why was it founded. Why should your organization exist today?

If you can’t immediately answer that question, maybe you should consider folding the tents. You certainly need to have some hard conversations among leadership. Either your organization has unclear vision, or it has outlived its usefulness.

(“Because we need to keep existing” is not an acceptable answer.)

Presentation Matters

One of the areas I’m working on professionally this year is my presentation skills. I think I have some natural teaching gifts and I have intuited my way fairly well to this point, but I’d especially like to grow in the area of classroom presentation. In particular, I’m learning how to do a much better job with PowerPoint/Keynote presentations. Instead of presenting lists of bullet points, I’m working to incorporate images, to tell stories — and to sometimes abandon PPT completely.

Professors are generally seen as repositories of information. We open our mouths (or turn on the projector) and pour this information in/on to students. In my classes this year, I’m going to work on moving away from the “feed me!” model and toward a more dynamic, interactive, thought-provoking experience, at least by “boring academic” standards. I’ve just added a book to my Amazon Wish List: The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great In Front of Any Audience. If you ever watched one of Jobs’ keynote presentations (and especially compared it to Tim Cook), you’ll know that presentation is just as important as information.

I look forward to being stretched this year, and to stretching my students and colleagues in the process.

The Wonders of Technology

I shared the following post on my personal Facebook page last week:

My kids are home from school and still in bed and all four of Capital’s campuses around the country are closed due to bad weather. Was my 8 a.m. Dean’s Cabinet meeting cancelled? No, of course not, all 13 of us are “attending” from our homes via WebEx. #wondersoftechnology #notalways

While it would’ve been nice to sleep a little longer that day, by and large I am very thankful for the wonders of modern technology. Thanks to smart phones, laptops, and programs including email, WebEx, Skype, DropBox, and Google Drive, I can connect with my colleagues and students in PA, MD, VA, FL, and all points around the country from the comfort of my own home in Indy.

I “attend” faculty and administrative council meetings, have face-to-face conversations with team members, check in with students, participate in a prayer meeting, share files and videos — basically everything except partake in group luncheons — with just a few clicks on my computer. I save on travel time, the school saves on expenses, and I think I am more productive overall because meetings, communication, and projects are more focused.

Technology can be a tremendous tool. Do you fully utilize its capabilities in your context?

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