Last week Kirk challenged us all to take up the art of storytelling. We have been thinking a lot about how fundamentally respectful it is to listen deeply to another person’s story. And now I wonder; what about sharing my own story? Is there power there too? After all, we aren’t trying to be counsellors. We are fellow citizens, neighbours, and friends seeking a way to connect. If I listen well to you, you may feel nurtured, valued, heard. But if I hear your story and then tell you my own, then I hope you feel all those things PLUS. Plus trusted. Plus needed. Plus connected.
I met a dear friend of mine, Jo, just when I was trying to pull together a conference about the power of storytelling to create social change. She is a poet, and open-heartedly shares her story every time she writes or reads aloud her work. I asked to meet with her so that we could discuss what sort of input she might like to make to the conference. As we sat, she started talking about some of the most painful experiences of her past. I suddenly felt compelled to tell her about my own experience of depression, sensing this was a ‘sacred space’ where it was safe to share. We looked at each other across the table in the coffee shop and said (with our words or eyes, I can’t remember now), “I am so sorry you had to go through that. You are so brave.” We said out loud that we felt deeply connected by having shared our stories so openly with one another and observed how appropriate that was, given the purpose of our meeting. In terms of the conference, ‘Storytelling for Social Change’, talking about our experiences of mental ill-health challenges stigma and raises awareness. In terms of forming a connection, this conversation about our vulnerabilitywas the catalyst.
Think of your deepest, truest friendships. Have those friends been there when you cried? Do they know your dreams? Do you know all about their most painful childhood memory? Brene Brown did a wonderful TED talk a few years ago, talking about ‘The Power of Vulnerability’. She discovered that the people she met who had the strongest sense of love and belonging were the people who were willing to “tell the story of who they are with their whole heart”. They allow themselves to be vulnerable by opening up, and are rewarded with real relationships.
So what does this mean? That we should share our life story with people the instant we clap eyes on them? I for one am not willing to do that – it was unusual that Jo and I almost did. But if I am open to the possibility of being vulnerable with you, then I am truly present and available at each of our conversations. I will perhaps find occasion to share a little with you; and you to share a little with me. We can build this together. I don’t plan to try to turn everyone into my best friend. But if I show you that I want to hear your story and to share my own with you, we at least have the beginnings of trust…and for me that’s a powerful place to start.