There was a time that I woke up one day and realized that I’d been manipulated. By stories. Lots of good compelling stories. Stories I wanted to believe. No technology was involved in the telling or my choosing to believe these stories. When I decided to leave, it meant that everything that I believed was called into question, including my own sanity. I was completely alone. I could not voice the words needed to ask for help.
We build our stories in layers. The layers of our own self, our families, communities and governments and the layers interact with one another. When we’re insulated and protected, the layers support each other and there’s no need to look further. When mine further collapsed completely, I learned that my stories (or “my truths” as I’ve had counsellors call them) were just that, stories. As likely to be true as the lies I found myself surrounded by.
In a world of stories, “truths” can be treated equally even when some of them are built on lies. Even worse, we often choose to believe the “truths” built on lies simply because they are less awful, they reflect the world that we want to believe is true. The consequences of different “truths” being treated equally to one another will forever haunt me.
I learned that the only path forward for me was in documented facts and data. “I don’t ask you to believe what I say because I know my words have no value… Instead, look at…” Trust the documented fact, the data, the quantitative results of what others have said. Facts and data protected my kids further harm.
At the same time, I found a job in a data-driven organization. The senior leadership made up of (mostly) men in the US, (all) men in India and (mostly) women in the Philippines had really no reason to listen to the advice of a women sitting in her basement in Canada because they already “all knew” lots of things. It didn’t bother me because I could show them how changes in training could have positive effects using facts & data. I could challenge their beliefs about what training was capable of doing by using data. They listened because the believed in the power of data and together we did much more good than harm. Data saved many jobs, including mine.
In the past two years, I’ve started to see the limits of facts and data. I’ve seen some bad and ugly attempts to harness and control data and I’ve seen the harm that those cause. Recently I’ve been learning about algorithms and Hadoop, which both scare me. But I’ve also seen the danger of people wrapped in layers of stories that are impervious to facts and data. We are story people. When it counts, data has seemed fairly impotent in relation to our story-driven beliefs and the actions those beliefs drive.
Stories are tremendously powerful. And that’s why they scare me.
I used to run away from the things that scared me. Since that worked out so well I now lean in to them and choose to learn more. Ask questions. So on a day that my Twitter feed if full of folks blaming the woes of the world on the things that I know have saved me and my kids, I’m going to commit to learn more about what is informing their stories. I’m listening.