I want to tell you a story somebody shared with me. Nobody knows where the story comes from, or who invented it, but now it’s widely used as an exercise to improve communication skills. I changed the names of the characters in order to be gender neutral, so, please, bear with me as some sentences are bulky.
Once upon a time, a long long time ago, there was a town. The town was cut in two halves by a large river. Amongst their inhabitants there was a really happy couple; Jordan, who was living in the Northern part of the town, and Riley, who was living in the Southern part. They were in love and hardly get into fights. The only issue they used to argue on, was their physical relationship. For Riley it was important to preserve their virginity before the marriage, but Jordan didn’t understand why. Every once in a while, they used to argue about the possibility of intercourse, but then Jordan would stand down and agree with Riley to wait their marriage.
One night, a huge storm hit the city. All the bridges and boats in the river were destroyed; the city was dramatically cut in two parts, and there was no way for citizens to cross the river. The first morning all the inhabitants walked to the riversides and waved at each other. Both Jordan and Riley were amongst them. The next day, the same thing happened, all the people went to the river to wave at the other side. On the third day, Riley went to the river to wave at Jordan, but Jordan wasn’t there. The next day, Riley came back, but Jordan was not there either. Riley kept going back every morning for the next few days, but still no signs of Jordan on the other side.
Only one boat survived the storm, it was safely stored inland while the strong winds destroyed the others. The boat was owned by an entrepreneur called Quinn. Quinn, who didn’t want to let the opportunity to earn more money slip away, started to shuttle people from one side to the other for an excessively high price.
After more than a week, where Jordan wasn’t showing up at the river, Riley, was desperate. So Riley decided to go to Quinn to ask them to ferry them to the other side of the river. Riley couldn’t afford those rates and asked Quinn what could they do in exchange for a ride. Quinn, agreed to transport Riley, if and only if Riley would spend the night on the boat with them. Disgusted, Riley turned down the offer and ran away.
More and more worried every day that Jordan was not showing up, Riley went to seek advice from Sage. Sage was the city counselor and used to give public advices in the town square once a week. When Riley approached Sage to ask for advice on what to do, Sage refused to speak to them privately and invited Riley to the town square to discuss the matter publicly. Riley didn’t feel comfortable exposing themself to the town and refused.
Running out of options, Riley went back to Quinn and agreed to spend the night on the boat. The next morning, when Riley woke up, the boat had arrived to the other side of the river. Riley, excited to finally be there, ran to knock at Jordan’s door.
When Jordan opened the door and saw the love of their life, asked how Riley was able to cross the river. Riley started telling their story: “Well..in exchange for spending the night on Quinn’s boat, I was…” As soon as Jordan heard those words, collapsed on the ground and refused to hear more. Their heart was shuttered and their world destroyed.
Riley left crying and stumbled upon Reese, who was passing by. Reese, listened carefully to Riley’s story and went directly to Jordan’s house and beat them up. Then, Reese went to Quinn’s boat, and attacked them too.
After I’ve heard the story, I was asked to rank the five characters from the meanest to the kindest. What was most interesting to me about this was that out of 20 people in the room, nobody ranked the characters in the same order.
Take a few minutes to rank them yourself. Who would you rank as the meanest? And the kindest? Moreover, what gender did your brain attribute to the characters?
Done? Are you sure about your answers? What if I tell you none of the characters had bad intentions? That nobody was acting in bad faith?
Why did you pictured the characters with these genders?
The story specifically left out details that your brain filled in based on your experiences and background.
Here are some of the possible questions you might have about what actually happened.
Why Riley didn’t show up after the second day? Riley felt sick soon after the storm and was barely able to stand up. The first day they managed to reach the river, but then the illness worsened and they couldn’t leave the house.
Why did Sage refused to give private advice to Jordan? Sage’s work was to give only public advice in the town square. Those were the rules. Sage already knew Jordan and didn’t think it would be such a big deal for them to come to the town’s square. Moreover Jordan already went seeking public advice from Sage in the past.
What happened on the boat that night? Quinn cooked dinner for Jordan, they had a glass of wine and a long and profound chat. Then Quinn left their bed to Jordan and went to sleep on the deck.
Why did Quinn ask Jordan to spend the night on the boat? Quinn and Jordan used to be together many years ago, then they abruptly split up. Quinn never had the closure they would have liked, but Jordan was not speaking to them any more. When Jordan came to Quinn asking for a favour, they took the opportunity to finally have a chat with Jordan and clear things up.
Why did Reese attack both Quinn and Riley? Reese was Jordan’s sibling and was trying to protect Jordan. They had an anger management issue and once they heard Jordan was hurt, couldn’t control their emotions and reacted without thinking.
There’s always an hidden side of the story. Don’t assume somebody has bad intentions and be open to hear the facts before judging the whole situation.
P.S. The original names of the two main characters were Skippy and Buffy.