Getting to Know Other People’s Stories Expands Your Perspective

“All the movies up for Oscar nominations this year are focused on women’s narratives,” Bryan said.

I’m a REEL Fan

I was meeting with my friend Bryan Coley. From time to time, he asks me to advise him. Bryan founded and leads an organization called REEL. They help people better understand who they are based on their favorite movies.

I know it sounds crazy, but REEL is an incredible experience to go through. Kathy and I did it as a couple, and we were surprised at what we learned about ourselves and each other. Bryan also helps corporations build more effective teams. I am a fan.

For Bryan, this time of year is especially rich. It is Oscar time. He believes God speaks to society through the movies released during the year. He looks for the message, the theme, the narrative God wants us to see.

A Woman’s POV

This year he tells me it is all about seeing the world from a woman’s perspective. He uses the movie The Post as an example. It is about the early days of Katherine Graham’s leadership of The Washington Post after her husband’s unexpected death. She is a well connected society woman but doesn’t understand the newspaper business.

Documents surface which uncover the real information and thoughts on the Vietnam War by the White House and the country’s leadership. These documents prove they were lying to the public. The editor wants to break the story, but Graham is conflicted. If published, the story would destroy her relationship with her close friend Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. Not to mention it would put her and the paper at odds with the President of the United States.

Her board of directors is made up of prominent and powerful white businessmen. They all tell her to sit on the story because it would threaten her current filing to take the company public. They are in dire need of capital. Also, it would put her and the paper on the blacklist with the executive branch of the United States government.

We experience Katherine Graham’s struggle up close. We see the story from her side and not simply from the male editor’s side. With everyone saying, “Don’t do it,” she does it. She publishes the story. She believes the truth must come out no matter the risk corporately or personally. This is the purpose of the news business.

Seeing Others Better

Bryan got me thinking about the people around me who aren’t like me. How do they see the world? They have had very different life experiences than I have. Why do I see life through only my lens?

Just last night I was at a dinner party. It was a collection of people my age and one younger. All of us were different nationalities. The youngest woman was French. The host was Italian, and his girlfriend was Cuban. The other couple’s husband was Jewish, and his wife was Italian. I am Italian, and Kathy is Swedish. Most of us grew up in New York or lived there in the fifties and sixties.

Back then, we identified each other first by nationality and then by name. That’s just how it was. Whole neighborhoods were Jewish, Italian, Irish, Polish, etc. It is how I grew up seeing society. It was a New York cultural thing.

Kathy, growing up in Denver, never thought about nationalities.

I told a story of my oldest daughter, Julia, coming home from her fifth grade class. Upset, she said, “The kids in my class are making fun of me. They say I am Italian. Am I Italian?”

I Was Flabbergasted

How could she not know she is Italian? But as I thought about it, in the South at that time, you were either white or black. As I told this story, my friend and neighbor, Alan, corrected me. You were either white, black, or Jewish.

“Really?” I asked, very surprised to hear this.

I tried to go a bit deeper on this with Alan, but I realized it wasn’t the place or time, so I stopped. But I want to know more. I want to know how Alan saw the South and what he experienced as a young businessman.

Alan, like me, grew up in the Northeast. He is from Brooklyn and was raised in a Jewish household in an all Jewish neighborhood. He came to Atlanta in 1978 right after graduating from a New York University.

He built a business here and sold it, worked for the acquirer for thirteen years, and now is doing another startup. He told me, “What took me ten years to accomplish last time, I have now accomplished in three years.”

I know my story and the challenges I had in building my business, in raising my family. But his experience, his narrative, is different from mine. He was discriminated against. I didn’t have any of this race discrimination.

Both of us share the economic challenges of coming from nothing and trying to make something, but he had the extra challenge of race discrimination.

What Was It Like for Him?

I want to know his story. By knowing his story, I will better understand him and his family. We will draw closer as friends and neighbors. Our relationship will become richer, which will make our lives richer.

I think I’ll become a better husband, father, and grandfather. I’ll even become a better investor and business advisor. All because I am interested in his narrative, his story, his view of how his life happened in the same time and place as mine.

Are we listening to each other’s stories?

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