I had the honor of attending Michelle Obama’s book tour kick off here in Chicago on Tuesday night. Before she took the stage, they showed a powerful video of different people and what they are Becoming (the name of her new book) with an emphasis on each person’s differences. She then talked a good deal throughout her talk about how each of us has a story, unique to us. She talked about how, on the campaign trail, she got to hear different people’s stories and what a privilege that was; how we all have more in common than we think, but also how we can learn from each other’s differences. I love this!
I have had the honor of teaching adults in leadership classes over the years. I like to start our time together introducing myself and often I give my little speech about why I love adult learning so much. It usually goes something like this.
I love my job, because it means I have the chance to bring a group of people together, like you, perfect strangers, who each have their own story, to learn from one another. I encourage you to be open with one another and share your story. The person across from you is different from you and that is a good thing, an incredible thing!!!! That means they bring a different perspective and different experiences that you can learn from! If they are willing to share their story, listen! With no judgment, listen to hear about how you have things in common and then listen for how you can learn from their differences…
Michelle Obama said, “It is difficult to hate someone up close.” She talked about her experience of going to places like Ohio, where she didn’t “fit” and sitting on a couch talking to someone and them saying she isn’t what they thought she was. They had judged her based on what they saw or other people’s version of her story. But when she was sitting there with them, sharing her story they saw her for who she really is. How powerful.
In adult learning, we bring people “up close”. We bring them together to learn. No matter the topic, the most powerful tool we have when we do this, is the story that each learner brings to the table. We need to find ways to allow our learners to share their stories. We need to find ways to take advantage of this power! It is by bringing people together, bringing them close, that we build an “arch” to allow them to see one another for who they really are and not the color of their skin, the clothes they wear, the person they love, the country in which they were born… And once they see each other, then they can learn from one another.
Our story is our power! Their stories are the power of learning!