When Fiction makes a better job of the truth¹
I read. Relentlessly, rapaciously and rapidly. I read everything and anything, wherever and whenever. Online, in dusty libraries, kindled or tree-hewn, I'm as passionate about literature as I am about my professional reading. Which is why it's rather perplexing that I don't often use fictional finds to inspire my business writing. Until now, that is.
Louise Penny’s 'Bury Your Dead' is one of a crime series featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache (of Quebec not Paris). Not necessarily heavy weight literature but good quality, engaging and entertaining stuff, these easy-read 'whodunits' have earned Ms Penny a number of crime writing awards and accolades over the years.
It was the words of the shrewd protagonist, Gamache on the induction of his newest recruit that stopped me dead in my tracks and really made me think. Four simple sentences, described as ‘the four sentences that lead to wisdom’:
I’m sorry. I was wrong. I need help. I don’t know.
It struck me that a single one of these deceptively plain phrases is a bolt of lightning through any dialogue, be it innocuous, contentious or otherwise. So frank, so sincere, so powerful and yet so difficult to say in a relationship, be it professional or personal.
Apologies are brave, embracing vulnerability. How often do we dare to say we are wrong? Admitting the need for help requires trust and shows humility. 'I don't know' cuts clean to the chase with a presumption of equality and of respect confidently given and commanded: 'I neither fear nor expect your contempt for my ignorance...'
All of the phrases depict true confidence in practice, confidence born of innate self-esteem which in turn further builds and boosts self-esteem, creating a virtuous circle.
Fine, fine words that go far, far beyond individual personal development. When you deploy them, your team, your friends, your family can all benefit. By walking the talk, they see you sharing and giving, they feel your courage, strength and integrity and they just might start to reciprocate. In these four simple sentences, there is a thrilling receptiveness to broad collaboration, to new experience, and embracing enduring, resilient relationships.
Don’t take my word for it. Try one or even all four sentences for yourself this week. Knock people sideways at home, in the local or in the office, and take in the reaction!
These words represent a crucial first step towards achievement, success, and the realisation of full potential - for yourself, your team, your colleagues and your widest personal and social networks.
For me though, it is thanks to fiction that they have really landed. I'm taking to heart Ralph Waldo Emerson's words 'fiction reveals truth that reality obscures' and letting in literature to my professional life, to inspire and edify, beyond mere entertaining. Care to join me?
¹ Quote courtesy of Doris Lessing, 'Under My Skin: Volume One of My Autobiography, to 1949'