The Power of Stories
DAY 10: Sharing Stories
The truly very important matter
So a couple months ago, something happened to me that I imagine you might be able to relate to. I got really upset about something a stranger said on the internet.
Now you probably know how this goes. First Random Acquaintance posts a status on facebook about a Very Important Matter about which you have strong feelings. So you post a comment, with your (carefully worded) opinion. Some other acquaintances chime in, mostly in agreement with you, but then, here comes Stranger, posting something that is just plain wrong. Stranger knows Random Acquaintance, but you and Stranger have no connection. Still, you feel compelled to reply. Stranger replies back, and this time, Stranger goes so far as to question whether you even have the life experience required to have a valid opinion on this Very Important Matter.
Well. If you’re anything like me, you might go out for a run around the lake near your house, fuming and coming up with all kinds of snarky and arrogant responses to Stranger. Because that’s what I did. But when I sat back down and opened the computer, I realized I didn’t want to abuse poor Random Acquaintance’s wall with further arguments. So I decided to send Stranger a private message. And in that message, I told him my story, a very personal story, about why I held these opinions about the Very Important Matter. I imagined he might ignore the message, and I doubted that he’d respond, but it felt good to put those words out there. Then an amazing thing happened. Stranger wrote back with a compassionate reply in which he told his own very personal story about his opinions on the Very Important Matter. Suddenly he had gone from “arrogant wrong-headed internet Stranger” to “human being with unique experiences and views that differ from my own.”
I was able to connect with a stranger who had offended me on a public forum on the internet because we told each other our stories.
Stories are amazing like that. They are powerful. And as we know, power can be used for life-giving or for destructive purposes. Stories are like that too. When those with power and privilege silence the stories of others or co-opt and re-write them, they are doing great harm. Novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie addresses this phenomenon in her TED talk “The Danger of a Single Story.” Journalists and bloggers also address this issue as it relates to popular movies such as “The Help,” or television shows like “Orange is the New Black” where the stories of women of color are mis-told or overshadowed by the story of the white protagonist.
However, when people are given the opportunity to tell their own story authentically, it can be healing and even liberating. That’s why groups like Take Back the Night provide safe spaces for people to tell their stories of abuse or assault anonymously. That’s why recovery groups like Alcoholics Anonymous encourage telling personal stories in their meetings.
Stories are powerful. They connect us across differences, they help us heal, they frame the way we see the world. So whether you call up your grandmother and ask her to tell you a story from her childhood, or stop to listen to the story of the person asking for change on the street, take some time today to listen to a story. And then share a story in return. You might be surprised at what happens.