Stories. You have them, I have them, we all have them. By themselves they’re just interesting, maybe intriguing pieces of information, but as they are shared, they become a power that is not to be underestimated. I’ve been listening closely of late and experienced deeply some of the untapped magic within story. The kind that I think could help us reclaim our humanity and unity in a world that has become increasingly fractured. I’ve been watching and experiencing these fractures over the last few months in particular with regard to vaccines, mandates and rapid changes. They have stirred division deep in the hearts of people and yet what I see overcome it, is story. People make all their life decisions not in a random isolated moment but within the connected story of who they are and the life they’ve experienced all the way up to that moment.
Stories make us human. We all have them. Stories of the family we were born into, the culture, the time period, the country, the sibling order, the cracks and smashes that came with it. They’re the heartbreaks we’ve endured, the dumbest choices we’ve made, the heart bursting moments we felt so alive and the risks and failures we’ve walked through. All these things are within each and every human being and each unique set of circumstances leads to a unique viewpoint and understanding of the world which we all inhabit. When stories are shared, they add depth and vibrancy to the texture of life for both the hearer and the teller. Connection is forged and life becomes richer, never poorer.
Stories can bypass confrontation. No one wins when an interaction becomes about finding a winner, which becomes a power debate and struggle. A fact-fight of my facts against your facts in a world where it seems facts are somewhat relative, is unresolving. In that environment, every dirty underhanded trick in the book is pulled to be the last man standing – the winner. The truth is no one won because no one was understood. Relationship was fractured not forged. Confrontation is not a bad thing – it’s healthy, necessary and I believe at its best when it’s wrapped in story. If you’ve done or said something I don’t like and I seek your story behind that, then I can understand how this came to be. I will understand how you came to your conclusion. We then find ourselves in a much different conversation and one that is constructive for us both. Once understood in your own story, it’s much easier to then listen to someone else’s story. Not everything needs to be a war; you may just find you’re on the same side just taking different approaches or with different nuances.
Stories capture both the heart and the mind. Stories are heart openers. When you have opportunity to tell your story, people get to come on your journey. They become aware of the reason and logic which capture the mind, but also the feelings and the filters you see through to also capture the heart. None of us make all our decisions on logic alone. We are complex beings which make all our stories a unique picture of how we journey through this world influenced by fundamental beliefs, identity, family history, experiences, dreams, relationships and more! A story allows others to experience your story which both values you and broadens their experience of the world as well.
Stories allow opposing views to be understood rather than disputed. Stephen Covey taught us all the principle of ‘seek first to understand, then to be understood.’ Stories allow me to see how you came to conclusions that you do and the journey to that place. Stories allow you to understand how I came to my conclusion – which may seem to be opposite to you. The greatest victory I think for us as humans can be to be content to understand each other, rather than enforce agreement. In Denmark (and now across the world) they begun the ‘Human Library’ where you can go and sit with someone and ask questions, hear their story and understand a perspective that is different to yours. What a gift! Stories are how we learn and are great teachers of empathy.
We are all a part of one big story and we are all necessary in this grand story of life and we all need to be standing in the truth of our part in the narrative. Your story could save someone’s life. Their story may encourage you, or even better, challenge you! Our story telling imparts meaning and allows hearts to move towards each other instead of separating and isolating. No one story is better than another – they’re just different.
Can I encourage you this week or maybe even in the next hour, when someone says something to you that you don’t agree with, instead of launching into a fact fight with all the reasons they are wrong and you are right, ask them how they came to think that. Ask why they feel that way and lean in to listen for the story. You still may conclude differently, but you will have learnt about another person and honoured their story and therefore their humanity with value. It’s time to come together in story!