Kartini, Women’s Struggle and Storytelling

Every year on Kartini Day, April 21, students dress up in traditional ethnic outfits to commemorate the birthday of the national heroine known for her fight for equal rights for women.

This year, articles, online discussions and religious lectures on TV took Kartini as their main topic and reviewed her role.

Kartini’s role has been discussed very often in these circumstances and she is often used as the background for discussion of the personal lives and successes of notable female Indonesians, including business women, educators and housewives, whose achievements are relevant (or perhaps irrelevant) to Kartini’s struggle.

The “stories” of the female figures and certainly the “story” of Kartini, who died over 100 years ago, are all inspiring.

Able to speak Dutch, Kartini educated herself and wrote to Dutch pen-friends. One of these pen-friends was Rosa Abendanon who gave her important support.

From European books, newspapers and magazines she learned about the advanced thinking of European women.

This encouraged her to work for women’s rights in her homeland and fight for their freedom, autonomy and equality before the law as part of a broader movement.

Kartini’s letters show her to have been a thoughtful reader, who made many notes, sometimes mentioning a title or quoting sentences. She not only cared about women’s emancipation but about the social struggle in general.

What I wrote above is simply “storytelling”. In organizational study, storytelling is a tool for sharing knowledge. Storytelling is a way to convert tacit or latent knowledge into explicit or active knowledge.

When someone, or a group of people, want to share knowledge or experiences with others, they need to crystallize their knowledge and experiences into a comprehensible form such as an equation, a picture, a table or a systematically composed narration. The latter is known as storytelling.

For example, after reading the book Habis Gelap Terbitlah Terang (From the Dark, into the Light) that contains Kartini’s letters to her friends in Europe (translated by Armijn Pane, and published by Balai Pustaka in 2005), perhaps we will be moved and ask how we can share or sentiments with our colleagues?

The emotion built, the spirit created, and the rapidly flowing ideas all take place inside our own head. No wonder story-telling is so important to the knowledge creation cycle!

In order to crystallize the knowledge we gain after reading such a book, we will need to recompose the story using existing knowledge into a systematic narration so that, hopefully, we can tell the story clearly.

Storytelling sometimes invites listeners or readers to contribute, when it becomes gossip. Gossip is a form of communication with no discernible source, but with hidden interest in exposing or investigating the lives of others.

Gossip satisfies people because it provides confirmation of what they have suspected, worried about, or feared. Moreover, gossip usually contains moral judgments concerning someone’s behavior.

To distinguish storytelling from gossiping, the objective of storytelling must be clear and constructive.

There are numerous types of storytelling: the organizational story including a founder myth, the war story, genesis stories, the story of failure and so on.

In the context of change management, storytelling in the form of organizational stories is commonly used as a collective learning tool to face change together or as a collective motivator.

Another requirement for effective storytelling is context. For example, an employee who is facing a transformational change is told an inspiring story about a group of people who persevere in their efforts. Customer service staff are told a story about a director’s experience when visiting an outlet, where he was not recognized by the customer service staff but was nonetheless well served.

Telling an irrelevant story makes it difficult for the audience to learn from it. Likewise, Kartini Day celebrations that usually involve wearing traditional costumes, cooking competitions and other irrelevant activities will undoubtedly be meaningless and uninspiring.

Even worse, it may lead to an impression of Kartini as a sheltered wife (concubine) who was somehow able to reach the world and disseminate a visionary thought.

Learn about Kartini, before you talk about Kartini.

*Published in thejakartapost.com, April 23, 2013

Ningky Risfan Munir blogDr. Ningky Munir, is a senior faculty member at PPM School of Management, Jakarta.
NKY@ppm-manajemen.ac.id

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