The Power Of Story
“I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.” – Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
Stories change lives by enlightening us to social and emotional truths. Stories introduce us to people, place, thoughts, and feelings. It is through stories that we get to look inside one another’s lives, and begin to know and understand one another’s history, present, and future dreams. It is through story that we connect with ourselves and the people we do life with and begin to discern our commonalities and our differences, too.
In the past few weeks, we have been introduced to George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arberyand and where video was possible, we witnessed their deaths, which left indelible and painful images of how quickly a life can be destroyed. We have been able to meet their families and friends, piece together their lives in retrospect and learn about the impact they made on their loved ones and in their communities. We have learned about the voids their deaths have created. We have also witnessed a new narrative: that of change; of people of all colors, backgrounds, and generations standing up for what’s right and championing social justice and equality. The protests have taught us that it is possible to shift the narrative from one of desperation to one of possibility.
As a creative and curious person, I have never been able to pass people on the street, in an airport, or supermarket, or any public place without my mind filling in imagined blanks about their lives. The person in the car next to me beeping feverishly may be aggressive, or he may be desperate to get home to see his sick child. In his impactful commencement speech, This is Water, David Foster Wallace explains the “default setting” as the unconscious mind we all possess that tints the way we perceive the world. It’s a reminder, if not a plea, to avoid our “default settings,” which tend to alienate us and keep us from seeing one another. Wallace encourages us to let go of the illusion that each of us is the center of the universe and consider what people nearby may be going through. Years back when I studied in London and we frequented the Porcupine Pub in Leicester Square, we used to sit outside and ponder the people who passed us by. My group of friends had agreed that any of the people who crossed our path may be God. I have never lost that possibility. It is our choice to trust in each other’s goodness versus condemn those around us.
Our histories and contexts flavors each of our identities. Educating ourselves, listening to others, asking questions, and immersing ourselves in the stories of others is powerful in helping us to learn, to grow, to shift, and to act. When we get to know one another through sharing our stories, it is undeniable that we are much more similar than we are different. We all experience love, pain, struggle, joy, dreams, desires. If our life journey is about becoming better people, perhaps it starts with getting to know oneself, the good and the bad, and then beginning to know the stories of people around us, so that we can champion one another and create a more stable, safe, and fulfilling life for all.
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