Sharing Our Stories Matter
Updated: Jan 15, 2020
I, and everyone I know, loves stories. Stories connect us with our common humanity, our dreams, joys, and challenges. By hearing others’ stories, it gives me the courage and inspiration to share mine.
Sharing our stories can help us make sense of our world and have since the beginning of time. Stories can educate, connect, heal, inspire and build rapport. They are also a means of communicating, recreating, and helping preserve cultures by translating memories into a more concrete form that can be passed down from generation to generation. By writing or telling our story, it can help us grapple with fear, uncertainty, disappointment and hardship, as well as share our hopes and joy. By doing so, we gain a deeper understanding of our life, situation, and our own inner wisdom.
Sharing my own life stories in my book “Beyond Borders” was a remarkable journey of self-exploration and discovery. I had the opportunity to look back and develop greater understanding of what motivated me to make various choices, and to see where they led. I could appreciate the special relationships and unknown circumstances that influenced me on my quest. I could look at the challenges with fresh eyes in a more neutral light. Most importantly, I could see the wisdom I gained from my life’s work and the lessons I wanted to pass on to others.
Stories can heal. Telling a story about our life experiences can help us recover from an illness, improving our physical and mental health. For many patients, storytelling enhances coping with their disease, trauma or symptoms. Telling stories has been cited as a weapon against cancer, as it provides a healthy outlet for airing and often letting go of long-term resentments, pain, anger or abuse.
We witnessed the powerful demonstration of storytelling following the traumatic events of September 11, 2001. Survivors, friends and family members, police, fire and emergency personnel, medical responders, and others told and shared their stories again and again. Even for the rest of us who were not directly involved but were deeply moved or traumatized, telling our story of where we were and how we heard about it was so important to begin to heal. These personal stories inspired a nation in grief and helped provide moments of light during one of the darkest times in our country.
Writing our stories can give us a chance to rethink our pasts. As author Elizabeth Gilbert wrote, “Narratives get spun, twisted and renegotiated as family events were transformed from incidents into stories. There's a big difference, it turns out, between the two. An incident is an event that happens in real time, with real consequences, usually involving real (and raw) human emotion. A story is what you make out of it later. Incidents are wild and dangerous; stories are controlled and reassuring. In the process of building a story, you sand down the sharp edges of an incident, buffing away the pain and urgency, creating something you can carry around safely in your pocket. A story is a magnificent thing because it puts you back in control.”
Storytelling can enhance learning. Whenever a speaker says they want to share a story, I always pay attention. A 2010 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed a close connection between the brain activity of speakers and listeners in conversation, demonstrating how the brain of an engaged listener “syncs up” with a speaker. By engaging students with compelling stories that impart important material, teachers reach students both emotionally and biochemically, increasing the potential for rich learning experiences.
I encourage you to write your story, because it is who you are. Each person has a unique story, unlike any other. So often we put on masks and pretend to be someone we’re not, afraid to share our real selves. Yet the power for us and others is when we are open to sharing what we have learned and experienced, and what lessons we can offer. Each life story is a reflection in some way of another’s life story. In some mysterious way our stories and lives are tied together. Actually, deep down we really are all the same.
May you blossom through telling your story.
(Adapted from Kim's new book "Our Voices Matter: Wisdom, Hope and Action for Our Time.)