The Value of Story Sharing
By Dolly Haik-Adams Berthelot © 1989, l996
Since the most primitive campfires and throughout history, stories have helped teach, influence, and bind people together. Stories have fostered the understanding–of self, of others, and of life–which is vital to progress. Such understanding is sorely needed today, as we struggle to live and work together and progress toward common goals. Yet we have all but lost “natural” story telling traditions and skills. In 20th Century America, except for some notable revitalization efforts, imaginative stories have been relegated to commercial, mass media prefabrications and personal stories limited to the psychoanalyst’s couch. I recommend an alternative: Let’s share and use thoughtful, meaningful fiction and stories from our own experience and that of other people we know. I use the term “story sharing,” instead of “story telling” to stress personalized interaction rather than performance.
An individual, an organization, or a society that encourages and engages in story sharing invites others in. Ignoring or withholding stories shuts people out. That keeps us ignorant and isolated; it is neither practical nor wise.
Clear, honest story sharing is a powerful human strategy used to
- stimulate critical and creative thinking
- increase awareness and understanding
- teach effectively
- influence attitudes, behavior, cultural change
- create a climate for unity within diversity
- integrate people who are new to particular groups
- reinforce cultural values and ethics
- orient newcomers to work roles or organizations
Such purposes are important to work places, churches, schools, and other organizations, as well as to individuals, community and society. Story sharing can enhance awareness, human relations, performance, ethics, team spirit, organizational understanding and loyality. Exploring and sharing true stories is valuable for self help or self improvement, or organizational, team or process improvement. It can be a powerful basis for spiritual, personal, professional, or organizational development.
More specifically, story sharing may help
- improve writing, speaking, and listening skills
- illustrate points, provide concrete examples
- stir feelings and “right brain” responses
- humanize strangers and those different from us
- level the playing field for outsiders
- foster empathy, human connections, relationships
- open minds and hearts
- deepen appreciation of differences and of commonality
Some fiction and fictional adaptations may be creatively used to achieve these purposes. Memorable tales, legends, allegories, and fables such as Eliyahu M. Goldratt’s The Goal, Jerry Harvey’s Abilene Paradox, James Redfied’s Celestine Prophesy, and my PERFECTLY SQUARE offer a provocative gold mine, with broad relevance and applicability.
Since most stories draw from real life anyway, the line between fiction and fact is often blurry, the distinction often irrelevant. My course, “Friendly Persuasion–
Communicate to Influence Deep, Positive Change,” uses an experience-based story to demonstrate strategies that influence change. “Pontoon Paranoia” shows a wife’s attempt to entice her husband away from the “normal” type boat he has always known and loved to an odd new option. “Pontoon Paranoia” vividly illustrates the “Friendly Persuasion” approach, which applies to any influence challenge.
Fortunately, the multiple benefits
of story sharing are being increasingly recognized. In Managing by Storying Around, Dave Armstrong stresses the practical value of stories in corporate life. Accelerated Learning advocates emphasize what great speakers and great teachers intuitively demonstrate: good stories, like other right-brain appeals, can work miracles. People respond at visceral, emotional levels to abstract principles revealed in stories. They understand, and they remember. Real-life stories, even simple anecdotes, provide word-pictures which illuminate, clarify, and forge relationships.
Humans seem driven by the urge to be known, recognized, understood, appreciated. Some radio and television talk show shockmeisters exploit this urge by dredging up the sickest, the most controversial, the most revulsive stories to expose. Others, like Rosie and Oprah, seem to capitalize on the impulse without pandering to the lowest common denominator. But all depend on that basic motivation, the symbiosis of audience and story teller coming together to share stories, to share life, as it is personally perceived and experienced.
Group healing systems like Alchoholics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, and cancer suppport groups have offered the benefits of therapeutic story sharing to anyone willing to admit their problems outside the private nest–and listen empathetically to the stories of others with similar challenges. But why must particular problems be required for people to enjoy the inherent gratification of sharing experiences and insights with other caring human beings? Story sharing workshops and dynamic group processes offer anyone such supportive opportunities for personal growth and development.
Journal writing and memoirs are a logical outgrowth of the hunger to record and share stories. Both these ancient art forms are flourishing, cranked out with abandon by the rich and famous and just plain folks. The November l997 cover story of Modern Maturity (AARP magazine) emphasized the prevalence of memoirs, and their intrinsic value, especially for older people. I encourage you to keep an active journal, of both waking and dream experiences, and to consider writing and perhaps publishing your memoirs. I can help you with all these, of course.
Time Capsules offer alternative story sharing opportunities with special appeal as the millennium nears. Some people plant for the distant future, others to enjoy the revelations and nostalgia only 5 or 10 years later. Having developed and memorably experienced both personal and organizational time capsules, I’d be glad to help you with yours.
Exploring our own heritage–beyond genealogy to human experiences–reveals underlying values and brings our ancestry, our culture, and the larger history to life. Our own personal, family, work, and organizational experiences can shed light on persistent patterns, prompting insights which may guide future decisions. Sharing such stories in person and in print can enhance multi cultural relations, offering productive alternatives to more hostile and litigious approaches to diversity training and diversity management. Attending carefully to the personal, family, work, and organizational experiences of others helps us see people more fully. Such perspective is vital to work sites, organizations, or teams. “Seeing more fully” lets us more fully utililize and enjoy those with whom we have shared meaningful stories.
My growing fascination with my own Lebanese-American and German-American heritage (immigrant grandparents) and cherished memories of living in Turkey, spur my special interest in working with the personal, family, church or mosque, business, and organizational stories of Lebanese and all Arabic people, immigrants, and other international travelers and transplants, but I relish diversity and welcome clients of every heritage and lifestyle.
Growing numbers of people across America have discovered the value of storytelling, and story sharing, for many worthwhile purposes. Several of my own recent professional development experiences have assured me I am hardly alone in this exciting pursuit.
The National Storytelling Association’s (NSA) annual conference was a delight, filled with humor and pathos and learning and fascinating human beings being uniquely human. Although most presenters and participants tended to be more performance oriented than I, some terrific programs did involve personal story sharing for purposes of healing and building community. This was in Indianapolis. The l998 NSA conference is set for Kansas City. I recommend it.
Two other workshops deserve a mention. Before the NSA conference, well known psychotherapist Sam Keen involved a small group of enthusiasts in life story exploration. His book Your Mythic Journey echoes my sentiments about the value of examining one’s own story for the insights to be gained. Keen says, in the quest to determine your own mythic journey, ask these fundamentals: Where do I come from and who has come with me? Where am I going and who will go with me? I like that. Although I don’t call myself a therapist, all use of story sharing for personal growth and well being is a healthy thing, a wellness approach, kin to humanistic psychology and specifically narrative and transpersonal psychology.
To achieve the human ideal of “Unity In Diversity,” story sharing is crucial. Once again I witnessed this benefit in the “Color of Fear Conference,” led by Chinese American diversity trainer Lee Mun Wah, the producer of the well-known video named “Color of Fear.” As in my own workshops, memorable experiences were shared, expanding everyone’s horizons. Stories offer powerful ways to build relationships across human differences.
Such story sharing is at the heart CommUNITY DialoguesTM, Communicating to Create Unity In Diversity, the new interactive process which I designed to build relationships across diversity. This experimental process was successfully piloted in Pensacola over the past year, with the support of the Escambia-Pensacola Human Relations Commission (HRC). In CommUNITY DialoguesTM, women and men of different races, ethnicity, faith, ages, lifestyle, and other human variables share not only their concerns and opinions, but their personal stories, their life experiences. Participants come to understand each other far better than they can across the standard distance or through abstract generalizations or over-intellectualization. Results: greater acceptance, shared wisdom, coalition-building, and action for the common good. I’d like to provide CommUNITY DialoguesTM adaptations and customization to every organization and business, every school, every church, synagogue, or temple, and to every city in America.
The CommUNITY Dialogues process is both broader and deeper in scope than President Clinton’s laudable initiative for racial dialogues. Though they emerged independently, both his approach and ours rest on faith in the power of structured group dialogues and interpersonal communication. CommUNITY Dialogues, a process which has evolved through years of related professional work, relies heavily on stories. I believe President Clinton’s forums will become more productive as they evolve toward more emphasis on story sharing, rather than merely opinions. We can debate each other’s opinions. We can not so easily discount each other’s life experiences.
Well-designed, well-facilitated processes encourage participants to share stories for mutual benefit. Though I use such processes in much teaching and consulting, including Creating Unity Within Diversity, these few center on Berthelot Consulting’s innovative story-sharing techniques: LIFELINKS, WORKLINKS, Write Your Life, and Story Sharing for Diversity Training, Team Building, or Total Quality Management. All classes and processes adapt to participants’ specific needs and preferences, serving various personal, professional, or organizational purposes.
Sharing our stories can change us and our world for the better. We can learn so much from asking good questions, sometimes tough questions, and really listening, with an open mind and heart. And we can learn from our own story analysis and sharing. Sometimes, when we hear our own words tumble out, whether in person or in print, we understand ourselves–or our families–or our business–or our organizations–or our communities–just a little better.
Authentic story sharing is more essential than ever. In our complex, rapid fire world, individuals are too often mere fragments, flickers, momentary clicks on a surfer’s screen, too rarely seen whole, and in context. We yearn to be known, to know others, truly. Personal, familial, professional, cultural, and organizational stories, shared wisely and well, flesh out our images, help us perform better, thrive together, and contribute more productively to the common good.
Like the campfires of old, stories light our way, stir our spirits, warm our hearts. Shared in person or in print, stories can form verbal bridges between people–across gulfs of human ignorance, isolation, diversity, and conflict. Such bridges can also span the generations, a precious gift to the future, our unique yet universal legacies.
I have a growing interest in the stories (folklore and factual) of various ethnic groups, of immigrants, first and second generation Americans, of Arabic and Lebanese Americans, of older people, of women, of any human beings who have lived or are living interesting lives, who have met challenges, who have made or are making notable contributions. I relish researching, interviewing, writing, editing, publishing and helping others publish, designing processes and techniques, and facilitating individual and group efforts to explore true stories–and mine them for the gold within.
Whether in the form of articles and books, private collections, or interactive group processes, I love helping people build bridges and share gifts. Please call or E-mail today to discuss how I may be able to help you explore and share your stories.
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