Tell Me Your Story and I’ll Tell You Mine.
May 2017 | by Vicki Saunders | co-authored by Sasha Silberman
My ears perk up every time I hear the words, “Once upon a time…” I know that I am getting ready to be told a story! It brings back a vivid image of my mother sitting on either my sister’s bed or my own and telling us a story before going to sleep. I fondly recall a story about a mother cat who fought off a rattlesnake in order to protect her kittens. I just loved hearing about the power, courage and strength of that mother who would stand her ground and risk her own life to save those kittens. The story made me feel powerful and protected at the same time.
Human beings have always been storytellers. Language existed long before writing. Historians argue that our prehistory (stories and cave images—before written history) is significantly longer than history (when events started to be written down). Oral communication and the gift of storytelling are significant traits which set the human species apart from other animals
Our stories serve us in many ways.
Stories help us discover meaning and direction in our lives. We are emotional creatures who at once seek to attribute meaning to our experiences. Just as our childhood stories help shape us, forming our lives into stories allows us to view our lives in meaningful ways. Often, telling a story about a chaotic or traumatic event helps one put the event into perspective and comprehend its deeper meaning.
Stories tell us who we are and help us find our place in the world. Stories are also invaluable in accessing and sharing each of our own truest essential natures. It is not possible to make up a story that doesn’t reflect something of your own inner world. It is through our stories that we know how to be in this world—that is, they tell us who we are. Essentially, we are the stories we tell ourselves.
Stories connect us. They help us live together. If I can understand your story and see the world through your eyes, we are connected. When we learn each other’s stories, we are forever changed. Something shifts in us and we are more open. When we are open, we connect. In fact, Aristotle says in “Poetics” that storytelling is what gives us a shareable world.
Stories teach us. Articulating our memories and experiences help us see themes, lessons, and values. When these themes are identified through our favorite stories, they can become powerful vehicles for change. Stories help us pose and answer questions as well as explore possibilities.
Lastly, stories can also lead to a shift in perspective or viewpoint. There was some preliminary research done years ago to learn when and how people change their minds. It was found that humans are rarely swayed by the factual evidence alone. Even when we are exposed to facts that directly contradict a belief we have, we tend to simply become further entrenched in that belief. However, if we hear a personal story, a different result ensues. Knowledge of a personal experience often leads to consideration of a different point of view.
If a story helps us change our minds and hearts, gives us new hope, and compels us to live more fully, it is a useful and powerful story. On the other hand, care must be taken, because stories that we tell ourselves have the potential to get in the way of our own growth. As our circumstances change, we may need to tell our stories differently in order for them to serve us well. When you can “go inside” and find the stories that either consciously or unconsciously guide your life, then you can re-write those stories and thus move to a place of greater choice in your life.
When the Catholic nun Simone Campbell was interviewed by Krista Tippett on her radio show, On Being, Campbell was asked the following: Where do you start to solve all the many problems of the world… poverty, war, inequity, etc.? It is all so overwhelming… where does one even begin? Campbell’s response was simply that we begin with our stories: that is, tell me your story and I’ll tell you mine. This is how we start to solve the problems of the world.
What are some influential stories you have been telling yourself? How have they impacted the course of your life?
What new stories might serve you best in your future spiritual journey?
Victoria B. Saunders, Ph.D., has worked for the last 25 years as a professional facilitator, specializing in female identity development, strategic planning and executive coaching. Vicki has a Masters Degree in Jungian Studies from the Jung Institute in Houston and Saybrook University. She also earned a Ph.D. in Organizational Systems from Saybrook and a Masters degree in Human Resources Development from George Washington University. Vicki has worked with Chrysalis in a variety of capacities for the last 17 years. She has facilitated strategic planning sessions, book groups, workshops, and extended programs dealing with consciousness, creativity, and women’s issues. She is currently serving on the Faculty, chairing the Program and Development Committees and is the Past President of Chrysalis Institute.