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The power of "Why"

Irma, several years after her surgery, re-visiting the nurses and showing off her new baby.

My sister, Nancy Hughes, often shares the story of Irma, a young Guatemalan woman whose hands were burned shut after falling into an open cooking fire as a toddler. A medical team Nancy was working with performed surgery to restore Irma's hands after 16 years of suffering. This encounter inspired Nancy to start StoveTeam International. Even after telling the story hundreds of times, Nancy still tears up every time she tells it.

Mrs. Marjorie Noble was the formidable English teacher in my high school. She set incredibly high standards for her students, especially in her journalism class, which I took for three years. Working on the weekly school newspaper under her watchful eye was a challenge. We had to produce stories for each edition, ensuring they met her exacting standards. Every piece had to answer Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How. The headline had to grab attention, and the first paragraph, the "lede," had to draw readers in.

Mrs. Noble was strict about the principles of journalism, many of which are often overlooked today. She was adamant that news stories contain no editorializing—opinions were strictly for the editorial page. Any hint of bias or unverified facts led to a red line through your article, which meant starting over.

I quickly learned that the "why" in stories resonated the most with readers. Facts were important, but the psychology behind "why" something happened drew the most emotional engagement that leads to action. Here's another example that illustrate this:

Adriana Lanting, a Rotarian in Long Beach, has been lobbying with scientists and medical professionals on behalf of Malaria Partners International. On a follow-up trip to Washington D.C., a Senator told her, "I remember you. I don't remember the rest of your group, but your story made me cry." Adriana had shared the heartbreaking story of a Zambian mother who lost her child to malaria. Despite her grief, this woman became a Rotary-trained Neighborhood Health Worker to help save other children in her village.

Telling a "why" story is incredibly powerful. Simon Sinek's book "Start With Why" is a treatise on the power of "why" in branding and story-telling. His TedX presentation is worth watching. Knowing the "why" adds to our search for meaning and involvement.


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