Daniel H. Pink wrote a fascinating book, A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age (New York: Riverhead Books, 2005). I have found the work to be extremely relevant to so much of what is happening in our society today. Among the six aptitudes Pink says we must master to be successful in the Conceptual Age is story. The other five are design, symphony, empathy, play, and meaning.
Considering just story, here is what I would offer. Everyone has a story. Everyone has a story because everyone has a past. When I say everyone has a story, my implication is we have an obligation to hear that story. Failing to do so brings no good to anyone.
The greatest gift you can give to any person is to listen to his or her story. By listening to a person’s story, you are demonstrating respect, interest, concern, and affirmation. It builds relationship and connection, which are so desperately needed today.
More than just listening to a person’s story—as important as that is—responding to that story is even more important. Sometimes it can be too easy just to listen without responding. That can send the wrong message. To that point, I deeply appreciate Pink’s observations involving research studies about how doctors interact with their patients:
“[About 30 years ago], when researchers videotaped doctor-patient encounters in an exam room, they found that doctors interrupted their patients after an average of twenty-one seconds. When another set of researchers repeated the study [a little over a decade ago], doctors had improved. They now waited an average of twenty-three seconds before butting in.” (p. 110)
These are sad statistics. The good news is the latest trends are now moving in a more positive direction. This is especially important for success in the Conceptual Age:
“At Columbia, all second-year medical students take a semester in narrative medicine . . . [where] they learn to listen more empathically to the stories their patients tell. . . . The goal is empathy, which studies have shown declines in students with every year they spend in medical school. And the result is both high touch and high concept. Studying narrative helps a young doctor relate better to patients and to assess a patient’s current condition in the context of that person’s full life story.” (p. 111)
Every person has a story. Every person loves to share it. In the Conceptual Age, all of us will love to listen too.