By Joli

At Story By the Throat! I’m seeking discussion that’s cordial, affirming and enriching, so I’d like to make clear how I endeavor to conduct myself here and what I expect from guests in return.

My friend Willem Larsen of the College of Mythic Cartography has developed a set of guidelines for some forums he moderates. The way I hear it, he got so fed up with the choice between pages of nitpicky rules and nebulous “commonsense” standards of niceness, that he boiled down the behavior he was looking for to three simple directives. I find they sum up beautifully how I’d like to interact with people here or anywhere:

Tell your story. Relate your experience, describe your feelings, share your personal knowledge. Instead of responding to others off the cuff with whatever instinctive reaction or opinion comes to mind, dig deep into your own experience that causes you to think or feel that way. Share that. Your story is valuable, and so is everyone else’s. When we share on that level, we can empathize more fully and discover each other’s value.

Ask a Question. If there’s something you don’t understand about someone else’s story, if there’s some detail you think might be relevant, if you think you might have some experience in common…ask. Don’t assume you know what someone “really” meant unless they’ve said it directly. This dovetails nicely with the first guideline–if you can’t understand where someone is coming from, you can always ask, “what experience have you had that led you to that conclusion?” We want to hear each other’s stories, and questions are great for teasing those out and finding common ground.

Listen Generously. Assume the greatest value possible in what others have to say. If someone’s statement sounds ridiculous to you, or someone seems to be advocating a reprehensible position, assume for a moment that they’re not. Assume that what they’re saying makes sense, is reasonable, and has value. Try to imagine how that could be. Ask questions to clarify, until you are sure you understand where the person is coming from. And if you still find you have differences, you can part ways politely, without anyone being compared to Hitler.

I find this way of communicating to be more human and life-affirming than a lot of modes I’ve tried in person or online. And while it’s a challenge to to break out of old patterns, there’s something freeing in following a simple set of principles instead of having to guess, by gut feeling, whether you’re being “nice,” or “a dick,” or whatever.

Is there room for disagreement under this philosophy? Absolutely, we can disagree quite freely. The only thing we lose is the ability to argue or “debate” in a juvenile, “uh-HUH!” “Nuh-UH!” fashion. Our disagreement is expressed through our experiences and we can be certain that even in our differences we can be truly heard.

That’s the call by which I invite yo all into the hospitality of my space. That’s the standard I’ll expect of you as guests. When there are hiccups and challenges, we’ll work it out through discussion and hopefully continue on in goodwill. If any of us (yes, me too!) stumble and someone points it out, it’s not a “punishment” or a label of “bad person.” Only in persisting in a disruptive behavior might a guest outgrow my hospitality. In the meantime, Welcome. Come and tell your story!

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3 Responses to “Tell Your Story, Ask a Question, Listen Generously.”


  1. October 1, 2011 at 6:54 pm

    Hi Joe, your article was sent to our newsroom at Salem-News.com and we are covering this, the personal aspect of your story about your daughter is touching and powerful, I don’t see any republishing restrictions, I will give your site full credit and if you can hit me with your full name I would like to use it, please advise if that is cool. My email is tim@salem-news.com. Also, there is an event at Tom McCall Waterfront Park Thursday that will support the Wall Street actions, I’m sure you know about this, but Oregonians will get their chance to take part, many thanks.

    • 2 Joel
      October 1, 2011 at 7:08 pm

      That’s fine with me, though it looks like you put your comment in the wrong place! This is the page for my discussion guidelines. I assume it’s my blog post about the Brooklyn Bridge demonstration that you want to republish?

      And yes, I’d be honored if you would republish.


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