Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Up to that point there had been nothing unusual about the management training session. Everyone—the facilitator, and the co-facilitator, of course—but the rest of us, too, were playing our roles properly. Professionally. Be cheerful, inquisitive. A little self-deprecating. Try to participate. But try to listen. Try to participate and listen at the same time. Look like you’re participating. Look like you’re listening.

During introductions we were asked to reveal something about ourselves that no one might guess. That game. I can’t remember most of them. Mine was: I was born in France. (I thought I struck the right balance of revelation and impersonality. I thought this is what was expected. What was desired. Don’t you think? At any rate, people smiled and nodded.)

The guy seated to my left said he has an identical twin. His twin sister. Interesting that’s what came to his mind. Then again, not really interesting at all. Perfect.

During the afternoon—I don’t know how we got to this point. Was it the section about giving real-time feedback? The slide about addressing inappropriate behavior? It was a digression, to be sure, but it didn’t seem out of place. Nothing could seem out of place. Everything that was said or done was rapidly subsumed—by the group, by each of us unconsciously—into the set of expectations for the larger exercise. The accepted protocol. The parameters of toleration. Which really meant: You could say anything. Everyone would pretend it was normal.

So here’s what the guy with the twin said: I don’t want to tell any stories. Come on, tell us a story! we said. I don’t want to tell a story that’ll make me sound crazy. The woman seated to his left said: But those are the best stories. And of course, she was right.

So he said once many years ago, his sister got in a very serious car accident. And at the moment that she was in the accident, as the car was veering out of control, he suddenly was inside her mind, and he could hear her thoughts. He heard her say: I don’t want to die. As luck would have it she did not, and went to their parents’ house to convalesce. He got a phone call from his mom. Your sister was in a very bad accident, she said, and he interrupted her: I know she was.