How story stewardship can help foster empathy, inclusion, belonging

by | Mar 2, 2022 | Analysis, Public Relations

The death of Michelle Alyssa Go, an Asian American woman who was pushed to her death in front of a New York City subway train in January, is not being investigated as a hate crime.

But for many in the Asian community, the murder of the 40-year-old financial services professional is another tragic entry in the long and growing list of racially motivated crimes perpetrated against the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) population in the United States.

Some press accounts have laid the blame on the alleged murderer’s mental health issues, but as these senseless attacks continue, one must wonder how these tragedies are affecting the mental health of members of AAPI communities.

The pain that Asian Americans feel as they see how these stories are covered in the media only compounds the anguish that accompanies each new murder.

Building allyship from awareness

And it’s not just the Asian-American community that is feeling pain these days. A fire in a Bronx apartment took the lives of 17 people, some of them children and most of the victims immigrants from Gambia. And just last month, a gunman held four people hostage for 11 terrifying hours at a synagogue in Texas. On the first day of Black History Month, over a dozen HBCUs received bomb threats.

Business leaders and managers are looking for ways to talk about these issues, to create a dialogue that might help to dispel some of the sadness and helplessness that so many are feeling after watching news coverage that highlights the bad without offering any means of connection.

So many of us share the feelings of sadness, fear, and outrage, but where do we go from here? How do we connect with one another in the wake of these tragedies, find a sense of safety, stability, and belonging?

Listen with empathy

Empathy is always a good place to start, and empathy comes much easier when we know a person’s story. That’s even more true when we hear of a tragedy. Michelle Go’s death would strike us as terrible even if we knew only the stark fact of how she died.

But when we read The New York Times profile that talks about Go’s volunteer work with the New York Junior League—how she coached women and children about nutrition, how she helped families who were homeless, how she counseled young adults on personal finance—we see beyond the headline to the life that was lost on the subway platform.

We learn about her life, see how she connected into the larger human family, and we, too, can find a kinship with her story.

Practice story stewardship

Story stewardship is so important, and it’s something I’ve learned about over my years of coaching and diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) work. The stories bring the content to life, making it both relevant and relatable.

If we can empower communications leaders to tap into emotions with story stewardship, they can build a bridge for meaningful connections and create trust for building cultures of inclusion and belonging when these moments occur.

Lately, I’ve been reflecting on all the terrible things going on in our world, and I’ve come to the conclusion that what we need are hope, unity, empathy, and collective action.

I believe that stories can be used for good when people are committed to coming together to Listen, Learn, and then Lead with TLC (Transparency, Leadership by Example, and Caring)™.

Center and ground yourself

Another thing to keep in mind is the importance of grounding when we’re doing DEIB work. Meditation, mindfulness, and noticing where we feel our emotions, and consciously breathing deeply to clear our heads with purposeful pauses, all have been quite helpful.

Telling stories, and listening to the stories we hear, can help us see what’s happening, how our friends, family, and communities are affected. The stories show us all the ways in which we still need to work more deeply for belonging.

When we share these stories, we foster understanding and help to build a movement with others. By listening, taking time to understand the context and the history, and then sharing that, we make it possible for people we may never meet to enter rooms where they can be seen more clearly.

Courage to walk alongside

But it isn’t easy for everyone to share their stories. It takes courage and a willingness to be vulnerable and transparent. But we’re all better off when leaders make the choice to prioritize belonging, to listen and to lead, and to bring their whole selves into the conversation.

I’m reminded of the lyrics of a song I recently heard by three-time Grammy nominee Melanie DeMore: “Put one foot in front of the other and lead with love.”

Lisa Ong
Lisa Ong is an award-winning diversity and inclusion strategy consultant, speaker, and professional certified executive coach. Lisa is hired by CEOs and CHROs to co-create their diversity, equity, inclusion strategy to cultivate cultures of belonging as great places to work. Lisa was previously a national diversity director in PwC’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, HR director, and a financial audit senior manager.


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