What is your iconic story?
Our Iconic Stories
 February 11, 2014

My partners and I have talked about the importance of the iconic story, how it shapes individuals, focuses organizations and inspires societies. An iconic story may start out small and unassuming, like a pebble tossed in a pond. It may be monumental like a boulder as well. Regardless, the ripple effects may continue to expand in ever broadening circles such that they can have impact years later.
On a rainy winter night in 1990 when I worked at Asian Health Services, I had one such iconic moment. It was 8:30pm and I was the only one at the clinic. The phone rang. It was an emergency room nurse at Highland General Hospital asking for help. Upon arriving at the ER, I met "Daniel", a 19-year old Chinese-American student who was on the verge of respiratory failure. He had just been diagnosed with pneumocystis carinii pneumonia, which also accorded him an AIDS diagnosis. From behind his oxygen mask and between labored breaths, Daniel revealed to me that he had had one sexual encounter with a man two years prior. He couldn't understand how, from that single encounter, he could have become so ill, and how he was going to explain all of these things to his immigrant parents. I did not go home that night, but remained by his side.
For the next three weeks while Daniel was in the hospital, my staff and I provided practical and emotional support for him and his family, promising that we would always be there to help. But once Daniel went home, we never saw him again. Despite our repeated attempts to make contact over the next year, the apparent shame was too overwhelming and his family simply shut us out. 
These events with Daniel led to the establishment of the Asian Health Services Youth Program, which, for the past twenty-five years, has provided education, counseling and clinical services to thousands of young people. 
I had never thought of this story as an iconic one until one of my partners asked me to tell her of a defining moment in my professional life. My experience with Daniel acted as a pebble dropped in a pond, and the ripples of this experience defined the course of my career, grounding me in my passion to serve young people.
On the other end of the iconic spectrum, we are working with a client whose very existence changed when a major event, like a proverbial boulder, created a huge ripple. The Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF), was a small, all-volunteer organization focused on media analysis and education. Then came 9/11.  Overnight, SALDEF's scope and profile changed and the organization had to muster its resources to respond to the needs of both the community and society in general. SALDEF now opens their annual SIKH-Lead training with this iconic story to give their young leaders the foundation of purpose, guts, smarts and hope to carry forth with the work.
Like a proud parent, I look at the website of the Asian Health Services Youth Program, of which I have not been associated for eighteen years. Several generations of staff have come and gone and I wonder whether the current staff knows of Daniel's story. If they did, would this connection to the past deepen the meaning of their work? For my part, I know that it is my duty to help my clients recognize the importance of their iconic stories, to create spaces to share them, and to connect them to a deeper sense of why we are here and what we are meant to become


Elemental Partners cultivates healthy and prosperous organizations through clarity of purpose, alignment of principles, and integration of systems.

For more information, visit us at www.elementalpartners.net or email us at kevin@elementalpartners.net



Elemental Partners contracted with Genentech for organizational development and facilitation services.  You can find out about their good work at their website:  www.gene.com 

Kevin and Sandra will be conducting an organizational assessment with the Center for Diversity & the Environment in Portland on February, 20th.

Congratulations to our clients, Tools for Peace, whose "Stop, Breathe and Think" meditation app for young people was downloaded over 22,000 times since its launch in January.  You can find out more about their app at www.toolsforpeace.org 

You can find out more about the Asian Health Services Youth Program by going to their website: www.safeandsexy.org

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