This reflection has its beginning in the story telling culture of Sugar Creek township, Cedar County, Iowa, nine miles north of Wilton Junction. The environment is everyday down to earth living, farming. Other businesses have developed over time but in my growing up during the 30th and 40s we are talking about farming. I did not stay in this locale, at age 8 we became the wagon people after the loss of the family farm in 1938. I had some school time in Muscatine, West Liberty, Nichols, and back to Muscatine for my last 3 1/2 years of high school. Eight houses in nine years. Some were for shorter periods of times than others. My response in adulthood has been two houses since 1969 to 2011. I have added a two new addresses in seven years. Back to my topic: The Story Listeners Task.
The summer of 1953 brings the experience of being trained as a story listener by a person who was a story listener, Fred Kuether. Story listening was his method of supervision as a Clinical Pastoral Supervisor. He did not tell us about his methodology at the time. I learned about his methodology 25 years later when I was developing a story listening method of my own. He was the catalyst for what I have generated.
Training 3 people in story listening as a way to change a rule in the hospital Auxiliary where volunteers who took the notions cart around were not supposed to talk to patients, 1966, became a beach head for change.
The a recorded visit with a patient opened my ears to hear how metaphors are a central part of the stories we hear.
Out of this personal history I identify and name the Story Listeners Task.
1. Stay with facilitating the story being told. There is some discipline to this which I can amplify at another time or in the revision of this post.
2. Respond to the clues provided by the story teller. A story teller will reveal a number of clues. When I was recovery from the loss of my first wife I was not all that open to the pain of others. As I was healing I remember a person saying , "last year was a difficult year." I did not respond to the clue even after hearing it. Realizing what I had missed I later asked him, "tell me about your difficult year." He had been receiving chemotherapy for a cancer diagnosis.
3. Listen for the metaphors in the story: root and orientation metaphors. Aristotle gave this advice in his Rhetoric over a thousand years ago. Slow learners. Root metaphors are nouns and pronouns. Orientation metaphors are verbs, adverbs, adjectives, and propositions. "Difficult" is the orientation in the last paragraph, point 2. All our words can be moved to new places making them metaphorical.
4. Reach a level of comfort with the uncomfortable. Since stories have different levels of emotion what you respond to will register how deep and how much pain you are ready to hear. As you become more comfortable with the uncomfortable the listener will be able to listen at.a deeper level.
5. Develop a tolerance for the ambiguity generated by the story.
6. Keep a journal and develop a support group for reflecting and learning.
Marlin Whitmer, retired hospital chaplain, BCC.