Living life is messy. You've probably noticed, people are effed up. The good news? If you're willing to get messy, connecting with people ain't that hard.
StoryShop has come forward with a call to action called #JoinTheStory that essentially challenges all of us to take back our narratives and openly explore each others' narratives. In Pirate speech, this means sailing under your own colors instead of ingesting the bilge from the Information Dealers about our fellow humans. (For more on the whole Pirate Publishing thing click here.) From the mile-high perspective this is a challenge for us to be more human.
Look at it this way, if I understand what it is like to be me, great. That's a single POV upon the planet Earth at a single point in time. So...basically, I understand something like 0.0000001% of what it's like to be human. As a storyteller, this means based on my human experience alone, I can authentically connect with a tiny, tiny fraction of my audience. The more I understand what it is like to live like other people, the broader my ability to authentically connect with my audience.
To be a Pirate Author is to be a better human.
For a storyteller, #JoiningTheStory is all in a day's work. It's our job to put ourselves in other people's shoes so we can bring our narratives to life for our audience. That's the academic side of things. For some of us, academics are easy. We can study world religions. We can track Wikipedia threads all day long and then some. History. Politics. Ecology, philosophy, and economics. But how do we move past the academics? How do we actually connect with people in our real lives? In the real world? Because the more we genuinely live this life, the more authentically we will connect with our readers in the places they are living in their own lives.
Like it or lump it, this is reality. We can bullshit onto the page all day long, and some of us are pretty damn good at it. But it's only when we are able to crawl inside the hearts and minds of our characters that our characters will crawl inside the hearts and minds of our readers. That's when we change people. That's when we bring people closer together by educating ourselves and others to have a fuller understanding of what it means to be human.
The challenging news? Remember how this post started out? What? You weren't paying attention? That's right, living life is messy. But life's propensity for unpredictability is exactly why I believe we should all be yelling stuff like, "Fire in the hole!" at least once a week, or we just ain't living.
Keeping that in mind, the rest of this post will offer a few things you should consider implementing in your own life for the purpose of connecting with your audience. This is, after all, a major part of taking your narrative back from the Information Dealers, and that is first and foremost the task of a Pirate Author. Power to the Pirates.
Psychoanalyze yourself first.
Before you try to put yourself in someone else's shoes, it's probably smart to addressed your personal foot attire. Authors are more likely to be self-aware than the general populous. That means you're probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 10% self-aware.
Why are you the way you are? Who have been the key influencers in your life for better and for worse? What were the key formative moments in your past? I realize these can be dangerous questions to ask. For some of us, we've blocked out traumatic past events for self-preservation. The thing is, whether we meant to or not, we most likely made personal vows in those moments.
You might have promised yourself to never be used again, or to never let someone get too close. You might have made a vow to never put your own selfish needs before those of someone else. You might have deeply internalized a false truth that you were worthless or that something terrible was your fault. You might have believed a damaging lie someone in your life spoke over you. These past events hold power over our present living--power to build up and power to tear down.
If we are unaware of the true reality of past defining moments, then most likely we're building our lives upon a false reality--one that you told yourself in the midst of pain, or one that someone else imposed on you through anger and manipulation. As we Pirate Authors say, "That $*%# ain't gonna fly no more," or "Not on my poop deck you don't."
Like I said before, this is dangerous mental and spiritual territory. I don't recommend you dive into the deep end of self-psychoanalysis without finding the right person to be your guide. This person might be a professional, or this person might be a trusted friend or family member. The only requirements are they: 1) know how to listen 2) ask good questions and 3) reflect what you are saying back to you in a way that helps you deconstruct how you felt during the traumatic event and see it in its entirety with the benefit of hindsight.
Having said all that, it's important to mention that we be available to help those around us navigate through this same process. Maybe you can be the close friend and/or loved one who helps someone process past trauma in order to identify false realities and live into their true selves.
"Trips Neg D" is for you and me.
Okay, that was some deep shinola. But there isn't anyway to get around the need for understanding our personal narratives before we are able to understand the narratives of others. Now let's lighten it up a bit...just a bit.
My second suggestion for expanding your empathy and connecting with your audience is actually a company policy we implemented over a year ago. We call it Trips Neg D. That's short for the Triple Negative D Policy, or "Don't be a Dick, Douche, or Dumbass."
This policy states in a single page of text that we should respond to people in a way that will not be interpreted as being a dick, douche, or dumbass. The policy hangs on the anchors of respect and honor. I personally think "tolerance" is perfectly achievable by dicks and douches. It's an amazingly low bar that doesn't really accomplish anything. If I can disagree with you while still treating you with respect, I've accomplished something capable of making the world a better place.
Whenever you find yourself confronted with road rage or an annoying neighbor, think about the course of action you are considering. Would the other person involved in the matter most likely perceive you as a dick, douche, or dumbass based on your behavior? If the answer is yes, refrain. Find a different way to communicate.
I can hear your objections. "But they were being a dick first!" Hey, what's this whole post been about so far? If you stand on your personal belief that the other person is simply a dick, how are you going to deepen your understanding of humanity? How are you going to quash the Information Dealers and take back the human narrative?
Maybe that driver that accelerated around you and then slowed down in front of you recently learned their spouse is cheating on them or that a parent died. Maybe your annoying neighbor has a child out of control, or is taking constant crap from a boss or coworker.
Everyone has a story. Trips Neg D is about controlling our responses enough to consider the narratives around us before we play our part in those narratives. Life is messy. We don't have to always make it messier. Take a minute to play out the story in your imagination. Create the background of the characters. You have keen observation skills.
The driver's car is new, expensive. The plates are from out of state. There are no stickers in the window or on the bumpers. Maybe it's a rental. Maybe they've been driving all night. They're on their way to a funeral, or worse, a high school reunion. (Have fun with it.) The point is that you've paused long enough to no longer feel compelled to honk, flip them off, and accelerate right back around them.
Expand your world. Expand your narrative.
My last suggestion for connecting with other people is to put yourself out there. If you live in an area with sidewalks, use them. This is radical, I know. I'm gonna get downright weird with this next bit. Walk places. Walk places even when you could drive.
You don't have to talk to yourself while you walk, but that's how I roll. I've got a backpack that is salmon, yellow, green, blue, teal, and grey. I walk back and forth from my home to my office in downtown Nampa every day. I occasionally even waive to people or nod my head in greeting. Some people are friendly to me, and there's no doubt that I'm, in general terms, a creepy old guy walking around with a colorful backpack and talking to himself.
The point is that I'm connected to my community. I recognize it, and it recognizes me. I smile at people sitting on the benches in front of the public library as I walk past. They don't know who I am, but they know I'm part of their narrative. And they are part of mine.
I know when the old, homeless guy with the long hair and camo jacket is too cold and sick to make it to his morning bench. I know how the remodeling jobs are coming along and when new people move into the neighborhood. I know where all the yippy dogs are. I know the commercial painter gets home before the electrician almost every day. The parking garage is the best place to skate.
If the only world you know is your workplace, your car, and the inside of your house...occasionally the grocery store, then you've limited your world too much. Next time you consider grilling, eating, and/or sitting in your backyard, do it in your front yard instead. Read in the front yard instead of on the couch. Bake some cookies for the neighbors. Set up a lemonade stand (it works for my kids).
That's it. I think that's plenty for today. So get out there, all you Pirate Authors, and take back the narrative by enriching your participation in the narrative of humanity! Oh, and while you're at it, head over and #JoinTheStory.