The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

MLDP Recap: "The Art of the Narrative" with Kate Hilton '99

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Students watched the above video with James Croft for a real-life example of a call to action.
“Leadership is taking responsibility to enable others to achieve purpose in the face of uncertainty,” according to guest speaker Kate Hilton ’99, Director of Organizing for Health, a project of ReThink Health, and Principal in Practice for Leading Change at Harvard University.
One way to motivate people toward achieving purpose is by using the narrative, a topic that we explored during this session. We learned that the basic components of the narrative are a story of self, which includes a call to leadership; a story of us, which is used to acknowledge shared values and shared experiences; and a story of now, which comprises of a strategy and action.

To illustrate the structure and execution of the narrative, Kate began her presentation by telling us a personal story of her experiences at Dartmouth, building rapport with us through her anecdotes about going on trips, sitting on the green, and meeting diverse people during her first Dartmouth days. She led us through her struggles – seeking the right degree path, feeling like an outsider and reconciling with the challenge of applying a newly gained perspective – as well as the decisions she made when she was confronted with these issues. At the end, she encouraged us to make the best use of our session at MLDP by becoming actively engaged in this week’s session and by applying what we learn.

After we examined her usage of the narrative, Kate invited us to think of a call to action that we may have, whether it be as simple as asking a roommate to clean his/her room or persuading an audience to be a part of a philanthropic cause, and to create a narrative that would empower us to handle these situations and hopefully yield successful results. We worked in groups of three to share our personal narratives and also give constructive feedback to make them even more compelling.

I was fortunate to have been randomly assigned to a group with very insightful peers who had had experience crafting narratives and were able to give me solid advice on how I could improve my story. After this activity, one of our peers shared her call to action, utilizing a story of her interpersonal interactions with the purpose of inspiring people to remain positive even when we find ourselves facing undesirable circumstances.

I found this session extremely eye-opening and helpful. I had always thought that people would be more drawn to credible objectivity through statistics and facts, which may be easier to process in certain circumstances, but I mistakenly underestimated the power of telling evocative stories. Near the end of our session, Kate mentioned, “When you listen to stories, it elicits ideas for you.” This simple yet meaningful statement resonates with me. As someone who is interested in learning about and addressing global inequities, I believe narratives can be very powerful in garnering awareness, interest, and support to resolve these and other pressing questions. With the structure of the narrative in mind, and some practice and coaching from fellow MLDP participants, I plan to utilize this tool to inspire my peers to take action so that we can tackle challenges that are faced by communities globally.

--Tiantian Zhang '16, MLDP Participant Spring 2014

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