The greater the number of listeners felt to be there, the more intimate the story to each listener

by Victoria Ward on May 21, 2010

Atticus Finch would not approve: why a courtroom of reptiles is a bad idea is a terrific article by Stephanie West Allen and others about why instilling fear into jurors is the wrong approach in the courtroom. Make a narrative with them instead. There’s an interesting response which is also worth reading, and in short, the authors suggest seven tips at the end of the article

1 | as you work through the discovery process, ask yourself, what’s my story really about?

2 | a story is always about conflict, the jurors must understand enough about the protagonist and the antagonist and events to get hooked into the story and follow its intellectual and emotional meaning

3 | we expect a story to be about change, so you need to bring to life early on the change you want to create, so you need to set up a bridge from evidence to the context so the jury can carry it in their heads

4 | we want good endings, and in legal story the jurors write the ending so you need to persuade them they want to write a good one

5 | we want to discover the message that tells us about the change we could enact and a good narrative will help the jurors understand the change message they can enact (I paraphrase more heavily here and may have missed something)

6 | we want to identify with the little guy, which you need to bear in mind when thinking how to persuade the jurors to identify with the protagonist

7 | test, test and test again

Pretty useful list don’t you think, not just in this, but in many other settings. Actually it also makes me think of Twelve Angry Men, that iconic film with Henry Fonda as the one juror not convinced about a unanimous verdict of guilty of murder. He’s not convinced because he does know, and that sliver of uncertainty is something he’s willing to sit with.  Something else a story that allows the possibility of change does I think, is allow you to hang, undecided, in a more complex place. Fiction matters more than you think too. The article tells how ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is the novel of choice for most lawyers, for whom Atticus Finch is a persuasive role model.

Separately, today, I wanted to mention the most glorious article, one of my treasures, by John Berger, written on the opendemocracy website few years back That have not been asked: ten dispatches about endurance in the face of walls

It might not, at first blush, look like an article about organizational storytelling, but for me it holds some great truths, that might link both to the Stephanie West Allen article and to the blog, and the conversation, about truth and manipulation.  I’ll end on one of my favourite parts, but ask you first, have I cheated by telling no stories of my own today, or have I been giving gifts by showing you things that have moved me? What’s our role then, in telling, listening to, and helping with the making of stories that move things? What’s our role in thinking about stories and victims? How much can you divorce organizational storytelling from some kind of personal moral and custodial code? Haven’t a clue, but I thought I’d ask everyone else as these are the things I ask myself most days.

The powerful can’t tell stories: boasts are the opposite of stories, and any story however mild has to be fearless and the powerful today live nervously.

A story refers life to an alternative and more final judge who is far away. Maybe the judge is located in the future, or in the past that is still attentive, or maybe somewhere over the hill, where the day’s luck has changed (the poor have to refer often to bad or good luck) so that the last have become first.

Story-time (the time within a story) is not linear. The living and the dead meet as listeners and judges within this time, and the greater the number of listeners felt to be there, the more intimate the story becomes to each listener. Stories are one way of sharing the belief that justice is imminent.

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