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Presidents and lessons learned

In the several weeks, I attended two very different talks by President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton. Although their topics were far apart, there are a few common threads that bear exploring.

President Obama came to Charleston to talk about the opioid addiction and preventable drug overdose issues plaguing West Virginia and the country. It is truly amazing that today, more Americans die from drug overdose than car accidents. Even more, 80 percent of the overdoses are from prescription medication. He demonstrated his concern for the plight of individuals suffering from opioid addiction and for the families of those involved.

President Obama speaks with a citizen in Charleston.

He listened to stories. One of the participants was a friend of mine, David Grubb. He recounted finding his daughter on her bed, overdosed and not breathing. After CPR from his wife, first responders administered the antidote naloxone to save her life.

President Clinton talked about the work that his foundation is doing around the world. He also suggested that listening to the stories of others is critical. Everyone has a story.

Bill Clinton at his childhood home in Arkansas


Clinton talked about his childhood in Arkansas. As a child, he rarely travelled outside his home town of Hope. Instead, he and his family sat around relatives’ houses and tables sharing their stories. Young Bill learned that he needed to listen to others’ stories before he had the chance to tell his own.


Stories are sticky and memorable, according to Chip Heath, who co-wrote Made to Stick. Stories are also the way that we record our history to others. It is a very human thing to do. Larry Senn, the culture-building guru, suggests building trust with others by telling someone a secret through a story, or asking them a favor.

Several months ago, Dan McGinn challenged us to rebrand West Virginia. Well, I think that this rebranding needs to be internal, as well as external.

How will we know we have addressed the internal brand of our state?

Perhaps it will be as simple as documenting a change in the stories that we are telling about ourselves and our state. Perhaps we can nurture our ability to see the future as more abundant, as opposed to the scarcity perspective that we have taken for a long time.

Optimism, gratitude and even our vision of truth depends on how we see the world and how we see our position in the world.