Find the story to move people

My route to work for several years took me down the same road at about the same time every morning. And, more often than not, I would see the same woman, power walking down the sidewalk in my direction.

I knew she was out there to exercise, so I didn’t offer her a ride.

When Blake Pollock of Rochester, MI kept seeing the same man walking along the road on which Pollack was commuting to his bank job – no matter the weather – he eventually offered him a ride. He learned that James Robertson was walking to work – a commute of 21 miles each way. Daily.

Pollack took Robertson’s story to the Detroit Free Press, which published it front page. Here’s a man working for just over $10 an hour, who hasn’t missed a day of work in years, even after his car gasped its last years ago. He could not afford to replace it so he walks, catches a bus, and walks to work 21 miles each way, five days a week from areas that no metro Detroit bus serves.

When his 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. shift is over, he hikes seven miles to catch the last bus for a ways, then walks the last five miles home in the dark.

After the story of Robertson’s grueling commute appeared in the newspaper, a 19-year-old Wayne State University student started a crowd-funding site to raise $5,000 to get Robertson a car. Within three days donors inspired by Robertson’s dedication contributed more than $210,000. Plus two dealers each offered a new car.

Now, instead of saving money for a new pair of work boots, Robertson is weighing car options, and he has money for maintenance and insurance as long as he’ll need it.

This is a rich story on many levels.

First, it demonstrates the power of a story. We may think people are getting harder and more isolated and tribal. And we are. But a powerful story still moves us.

Use stories to communicate. Whether you’re preaching, disciplining a child, giving a speech, training an employee, extract a story from your experience or reading, or listening, to demonstrate your point.

If you are leading an annual giving campaign, put a person up front to tell her story of sacrificial giving and the blessings that follow. I still remember a couple at my church who told of selling their dream house so they could lower their cost of living and be more generous. Our annual giving reached an all time high after that.

Second, this story illustrates that money follows the information flow. Robertson’s could still be walking for the next ten years if no one knew his situation. What are you doing to tell your story? It doesn’t just happen.

Third, the story of James Robertson illustrates the importance of having and supporting the mediums through which we receive our stories; be they the newspaper, NPR, publications of your favorite organizations or reader supported web sites like my favorite

Fourth, Robertson’s story is a heart-warming reminder that our self absorbed, insular, tribal society can still respond with a generous heart.

If you have a project to get done, money to raise, people to help – tell their story.

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