Telling our stories… and listening

We all have a story to tell. Some, like my brother, a playwright, knew how to tell it so we would listen.

Funny helps.

In “Other People’s Money,” a Broadway play written by my brother and re-produced here by Act Underground earlier this month, each of the five characters is portrayed with the contradictions and complexities that reflect the imperfect human condition.

When we really listen to their stories, we begin to understand: nobody’s pure. That doesn’t mean our judgment is immediately suspended—only that we are willing to listen to another person who appears opposite.

My brother and I were often opposite in our social and political lives from the very beginning. Although we were both college dropouts, he stayed home and went on to real estate and Wall Street and I got out and went on as an activist and organizer.

In those days, unless you had money for long-distance phone, if you wanted to communicate, you wrote. Long letters ensued throughout those movement days—although writing to each other was a practice that had begun years before when we still lived at home. We would get so angry with each other we couldn’t talk. We’d rage. So we’d write, leave our letter on the kitchen table, and receive one in return.

We had created a place to tell our story, and be listened to. Yes, we loved each other, but I think we did it because we had to if we wanted to stay connected.

Now, more than ever, we need connection. We need something as balance in a world that continues to polarize and feed on extremes.

The more we know about the world out there, the more chaotic and frightening it is; the more injustice we hear about or experience, the more powerless we feel; the more images of suffering we see, the greater our despair.

And then what? What do we do after we know.

With the powerful forces of social media, we can be easily seduced into another reality, full of spins and positions and the ongoing drama that conflicts present. Or, we could numb ourselves through our addictions: acceptable ones like eating, drinking, smoking, buying, the Internet, your smartphone, multi-tasking and the not so acceptable ones like opioids, drugging in general, alcoholism…

Or we could just keep to ourselves, our homes, our friends and family (despite disfunctionality) who look and act at least similar enough to us to make us feel comfortable and connected.

But it is when disaster strikes, when immediate reality sets in, that spins disappear, that labels that defined us get torn away and the boundaries that had kept us separated are broken and we humans get to act like the human family we are.

It was in 2001, right after 9/11, that the seeds of the Upper Delaware Community Network (UDCN) were planted. (There are now 790 subscribers.) We needed basic connection of the simplest kind, neighbor to neighbor. As described, the network is “Dedicated to building community through an online Bulletin Board aimed at fulfilling both individual and community needs... serving the health and welfare of the Upper Delaware community.”

With the world spiraling into more polarized extremes, we need to deepen our connections even more. We need to unplug and listen to each other and find ways to share the resources that inspire us, that lift us up and nourish us, the ones that connect us in the most positive ways so that we can plan and do the work that will affect our world, our community here.

But first, we need to DANCE!

Come to our Sweet Sixteen UDCN dance party on Saturday, October 21 at the Western Hotel in Callicoon. RSVP to

[Beverly Sterner is the founder of the Upper Delaware Community Network, and resides in Beach Lake, PA.]


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