Dialogue as Art

This evening, thanks to my friend and colleague Natalie Shell, I learned the story of two Irish artists who have created an unusual work of art …

Here is the story in their own words:

In April 2009, we sent a personal, handwritten letter to each of the 467 households in the small Irish village of Cushendall. We hoped these unsolicited letters would prompt neighbourly discussion, spreading across the town, promoting community curiosity.

The art work consists solely of the discussion between the recipients about what on Earth these letters are, who sent them and why, etc.

Lenka Clayton & Michael Crowe

Owritingn their blog website, Mysterious Letters, you can watch a video news story about their venture and also see a number of the letters – in themselves also a work of art. :) You’ll need to be patient, because it’s a long page and will take some time to load – but it’s worth the wait!

A fascinating story that left me with many thoughts whirling around in my head tonight.

Encouraging folk to talk to one another as a form of art. I love that idea.

I imagined folk who previously hadn’t exchanged more than a word or two with one another finding themselves in longer conversations – connecting, speculating and wondering. I imagined a buzz of conversation filling the air across the village, helping folks make connection and find synergies with one another beyond their shared experience of the letters.  Like an electric current of energy travelling through a grid and lighting up the atmosphere.

But isn’t it kind of sad to hear some folk were ‘scared’ to receive a friendly letter because it was from someone they didn’t know?

I also find myself wondering how many of us actually know enough about our neighbours to personalise a letter to them – let alone to do so for over 400 people in our neighbourhood.

And how many of us take the time and trouble to hand-write anything these days?

But … creating curiosity, wonderment and conversation. From where I sit, that is indeed art.

How would you have reacted to such a letter?


I Don’t Know

I’ve been listening to a lovely song by Lisa Hannigan, called I Don’t Know.

I’m  inspired to reflect yet again on the importance of connecting with other people and listening to their stories.

When I meet you, I don’t know anything about you.

I don’t know what your special gifts are; I don’t know what challenges you most. I don’t know what you like or what you don’t like to do.

I don’t know what joys and pains have carved out your being. And I don’t know what makes your spirit soar.

I don’t know until I listen to your story. Until I bring open ears and an open heart to time spent with you. I don’t know until I ask. And, as Alan Alda once said:

The difference between listening and pretending to listen, I discovered, is enormous. … Real listening is a willingness to let the other person change you. When I’m willing to let them change me, something happens between us that’s more interesting than a pair of duelling monologues.

Here’s Lisa Hannigan singing I Don’t Know:

I also love the way that Lisa, as she sings, cuts paper to make a beautiful world out of the blank room in which she begins.

For me it was a reminder that listening to your story also helps me build my own world – because listening to your story helps me re-story my own.


One Voice in the Crowd

So often we think we can’t do much to make the world a better place. We look at the enormity of the task and think “What on earth can I do about it? Who am I, after all?  Just one voice in the crowd!”

But here’s great little video I came across on You Tube, thanks to a friend who sent me the link. It reminds us that little things can make a big difference – if enough of us come together to do them!  Even as one voice in the crowd, we can help to swell the tide of change.

Visit the We Are What We Do website for more information.

One brick in the wall you may be, one voice in the crowd
But without you we are weaker and our song may not be heard
One drop in the ocean, but each drop will swell the tide
So be your one brick in the wall, be one voice in the crowd

And we are foolish people who do nothing
Because we know how little one person can do
Yes we are foolish people who do nothing
Because we know how little one can do

(Lyrics from One Voice in the Crowd, by Judy Small)


One Picture, Two Stories

bootsonwiresLook at the picture to the right.

What does this represent for you? What do you think about when you look at it? What story does it tell you?

In the workshops we facilitate for clients, we often use images to help people come together around different issues. Last week in a workshop I was facilitating, two women shared their stories about this particular image.

For one, it held a story of youth, of gangs and of the potential for violence.

The second woman originally came from a part of the world where electricity cables were often falling or damaged and there were many deaths from electrocution. For her this picture told a story of safety – the boots over the wire were potentially a protection from dangerous currents and from possible death! She said that, without the boots, the image would have been far more frightening for her.

By sharing their stories, these two women moved the group into a rich conversation about how the same experience can hold very different meaning for different people. Something we all know, but sometimes forget in our day-to-day dealings with others.

I can’t really understand how you experience what is happening or the meaning you make of it unless I ask you. Unless I take the time to listen deeply to your story and appreciate how you see the world and your place in it.

Reality is created in the moment, and there are multiple realities
(Sue Annis Hammond,  The Thin Book of Appreciative Inquiry)

Note: The image here is one card from a beautiful set called Picture This.  These cards are published by Innovative Resources, which is one of the best sources we know for obtaining a wide range of excellent strength-focused resources.


Indra’s Net

Photo: Indra's Net. Copyright Doug Benner

Photo: Indra’s Net. Copyright Doug Benner (Click for larger image)

There’s a beautiful Hindu legend about the god Indra, who commissions an artisan to craft a vast net across the universe.

When the net is complete, at each junction Indra places a shining jewel – the facets of which reflect every other jewel in this cosmic network.

Each jewel represents a single atom, cell or life form in the Universe and all are intimately connected with one another. Any change in one jewel produces a change, however small, in all the others.

The legend also reminds me of a passage from Sinuhe the Egyptian, written by Mika Walthari in 1949:

For I, Sinuhe, am a human being. I have lived in everyone who existed before me and shall live in all who come after me. I shall live in human tears and laughter, in human sorrow and fear, in human goodness and wickedness, in justice and injustice, in weakness and strength. As a human being I shall live eternally in all mankind.

Both of these stories – a 3rd century metaphor and a post-WWII novel – resonate for me in relation to our modern, networked world.

As human beings we are all interconnected. Even a small change in one of us can ripple out through those connections to make changes in others.

Or, as Peter Block said more recently, we can “change the world, one conversation at a time”.


My thanks to Doug Benner for his kind permission to use the beautiful photograph above.