Connect and Heal Through the Power of Story
August 27, 2018
I love stories. I have loved them for as long as I can remember. I recall being very interested in the stories I would hear from my grandparents and great grandfather regarding times when they were young. What was their life like? What did they do? How was it similar to my life, and how was it different? Stories, especially when told well, have a power like nothing else. For it is in these stories that our humanity comes alive.
Stories allow us to become witnesses to other peoples’ lives. A story when shared has the power to let people know that they are not alone. Additionally, stories give us a glimpse into a life and a world that otherwise we would never know. Anne Frank’s diary has assisted the world to better understand the tragedies of the Holocaust.
Similarly, Malala Yousafzai gave us a much better understanding of what it is like to have grown up in Pakistan as a girl when the Taliban started coming to power. Empathy is potentially the greatest gift of stories. People have been able to empathize with others as a result of hearing a story full of vulnerability, failure, courage and resilience.
I believe that every person on the planet has a story worth sharing. In other words, no story, no life is boring and void of complexities. That being said, it takes time to own our stories and to accept them and cherish them for simply being ours. Our stories are made up of a trillion different moments that compose life as we know it. Some of these moments are loud and easily remembered. Some of these moments are very quiet and yet full of beauty. Some of our moments are racked with pain and grief. Yet, when viewed together, all these moments compose our personal story.
I recently heard comedian Hannah Gadsby say that it was important that she tell her story properly. It was a powerful statement. Gadsby, by her own admission, has made a career based on self-deprecating humor. This allowed her to only look at her story through a certain lens. She used this lens, looked for the comedy, and packaged it up to not only provide humor to the public but also to help her cope with her differences. My heart ached when I heard her say this in her comedy special, and yet I understood all too well the times when I have not wanted to own my story because I felt shame for being different.
It took me a long time to realize that we all have lived different lives and therefore have developed different perspectives. We often stop ourselves from learning others’ stories or even hide our own out of shame. We don’t take the time to open ourselves up to sharing our story or truly listening to another’s. There is danger in not being open to people’s stories.
In the void of information, our minds have a tendency to invent knowledge that is not based in reality. How many of us have thought that all people who live in Africa live in huts? How many of us have thought at one time or another that all people who are incarcerated are terrible people and deserve to be stripped of their rights? How many of us have thought that people from a certain background are simply evil in nature? I will be honest. When I was growing up Jewish, there was a period of time when I was uncomfortable learning that someone was of German descent.
I think it’s very clear that people have different perspectives. We see it every day on the news and in our communities. How much time or energy do you exert to learn about other people’s perspectives? Have you ever read a book by an author of a different race than you or a memoir by someone who was raised in a completely different country or culture than your own? How much energy do you extend to understand another person’s full story—not their position on a topic, but who they are and how they have become that person?
I will walk away from a movie, a story, or a book dissatisfied if characters’ backstories are not provided. I like to know and understand how people become who they are. I have always had this insatiable interest to understand people. Somewhere along the way I learned that a person is not simply what that person is expressing today, but a combination of all their previous moments. How many of us believed that Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series was truly evil, based solely on his looks and demeanor? Snape’s backstory was not revealed until the end of the series!
The backstory in all of our lives is huge! What we live through, whether it appears major or minor, has an impact on who we become in life. Growing up white, female, Jewish, with epilepsy, as a late baby boomer, and with two parents who divorced when I was in college played a role in how I perceive the world. When I was young, I used to think that if everyone thought like me the world would be great. How naïve I was! Why would a person who grew up in Saudi Arabia, the Netherlands, or China have a similar view on life to my own? Why would a male who grew up in the same neighborhood have the same worldview? It’s impossible!
That being said, these differences are not a bad thing. Even though we have all lived our own lives, on our own paths, we have so much to learn from each other. I truly believe that our diversity does make us stronger. That statement is far more than a bumper sticker. Learning about other people and their stories and understanding their choices and how they have come to be where they are in life are the healing salves that we all need. As Glennon Doyle Melton has said, “There is world-changing power in sharing your story!”
- When was the last time you told your story properly to someone?
- When was the last time you truly took the time to understand someone who is very different from yourself?
- What’s stopping you from taking the above steps?
- Take a deep breath and gather your courage to take one step in the direction of learning about someone who is different from you!
In a past e-newsletter, I recommended the book Americanah by the Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I loved this book and it definitely helped me become aware of other people’s stories and their importance. I recently saw Adichie’s TED Talk about the danger of a single story. It was profound and definitely worth sharing.
It seems only fitting that I tell you a little more about Hannah Gadsby, since she helped inspire this newsletter. Gadsby is an Australian comedian who fell into comedy. She has a new Netflix comedy special that is not only hilarious but also poignant and profound as well. Be prepared to be surprised. If you don’t have Netflix, you can keep an eye out for the memoir she is writing.