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Rewriting the story of polarized debate: He got Tea Party and Occupy to talk

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It's delicate to cold-call people, Laoudji says: "I'm this stranger showing up in their life and asking them to share an intimate part of themselves with me ... in preparation for sharing it with a live audience. That's a big ask."

But, he says, there's dignity in the process: "When one of my storytellers goes onstage and says, 'This is my story,' inherent in that action is this idea that 'I exist, and I'm worthy ... of eight minutes of your undivided attention. My story matters.' "

When Christine Morabito, president of the Greater Boston Tea Party, met Laoudji, she jumped at the opportunity to correct misrepresentations of her party. But she discovered that developing her story is just as important as the storytelling event itself. She showed up to her first coaching session with a stump speech written out. Laoudji showed her a video of someone else doing a storytelling event, and it became clear that her speech wasn't a story.

"And I thought, [my stump speech is] not going to work at all," Ms. Morabito says.

During their session, Laoudji kept asking questions, encouraging Morabito to look beneath the surface of her beliefs and identify an experience that helped shape them. When Morabito mentioned she'd attempted suicide in her early 20s, Laoudji probed for its effect. "For a time after [the suicide attempt]," she says, "I was completely dependent on other people, which I hated."

Personal responsibility – a tea party mantra – drove Morabito to reinvent herself, mapping a destiny away from victimhood.

"[He] convinced me [to share my story] because he said, 'It's so powerful ... and there will be no question in anyone's mind about how you came to be the person you are now,' " she says.

And it resonated with at least one listener.

"I can't say that I have a lot in common with tea partyers," says Dayna Cunningham, executive director of MIT's Community Innovators Lab and a mentor to Laoudji. "But I found myself in a room full of them, genuinely interested in their stories and connecting with them.... I felt that they became more human."

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