From the Ordinary, Extraordinary

Stuart McLean is a Canadian story teller and humorist. He is known for his books, his performances, and his CBC Radio program, The Vinyl Cafe.  When people talk about his genius, I hear him described as a good listener, as making magic and the extraordinary out of the ordinary. I hear him described as being habitually curious about human life. He loves laughter and he loves silence. I don’t know Stuart McLean, but it’s super easy for me to fall in love with those qualities. A couple of weeks ago, Stuart McLean was heard to say, “What can I say. Things don’t always go as planned.” Stuart McLean died yesterday. The cause was complications due to skin cancer, which he was diagnosed with about a year ago. His life is being celebrated. His death is being mourned.

I admire the courage it takes to give full attention to the ordinary. It’s massively satisfying and delightful to me to see in the ordinary what is extraordinary. It feels wise, right. Perceptive. Insightful. There is clearly skill in being able to see the extraordinary. But the perceptual shift that matters to me personally, and so often in my work, is that there is extraordinary if we are simply willing to be curious about it. It can be grown, I think. But it is already there. In the staff meeting. In the people at the staff meeting. In the people trying to make sense of the plans of the staff meeting. In the vast and varied life experience of the people trying to make sense of the plans of the staff meeting.

We human beings in our collective adventures must of course share important information and data together. It’s part of collaborating. And we human beings must use that data to create plans and strategies and accountabilities. That’s good too. But let’s be clear, learning to collaborate is a life-long process. And further, learning to collaborate is enhanced deeply by our ability to welcome the time for story of the ordinary. I’ve lost track of which of my friends first said it — Margaret Wheatley or Christina Baldwin — “the shortest distance between two people is a story.” And those stories, those simple ordinary stories, are what I’m often trying to evoke in people that I work with so as to create good listening and good connection. I’ve started surprising people with questions that are off topic — “What were you good at as a kid — share a story.” It’s awesome to watch people light up when given permission to be in the ordinary, that turns out to be not so ordinary.

Thanks Stuart McLean. For a life of story. And for good listening. And for curious habits that I continue to try to grow and practice in myself and with the people I care about.


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