And it was OK. They wanted to know me.
I actually look forward to Mondays! Well, maybe not all Mondays… and definitely not waking up Monday mornings, but I do look forward to Monday evenings when the storytelling group meets! I know. Another church group meeting- as if I don’t spend enough time doing church things. When I was first asked to consider joining this storytelling group, I was excited about the idea, but was not yet convinced that I wanted to add another group meeting to my schedule. So let me explain why I decided to join this group.
The real challenging part is when it becomes your turn to share about your life story. Each person, as they are willing, is given two meetings to share about themselves. Each sharing time lasts for about 1 hour and 15 minutes. That means at the end of your two weeks, you will have talked about yourself for two and a half hours!! That is a really long time. And yes, it is uncomfortable. But yes, it is also really cool. How many opportunities do you get to sit down with a handful of people who care about you, love you, and are gathered there just because they want to listen to you? There is no judgement. There is only happy, smiling faces giving you their full attention as you talk about your life. It is uncomfortable and comfortable all at the same time. And yes, you will experience a moment where you think “there is nothing else I can share.” I had that moment both weeks of sharing, but then another story would come to mind- maybe one I didn’t plan on sharing, or one I didn’t think I would want to talk about, and I would keep on talking. And it was OK. Nothing bad happened because I shared who I am. And when I was done sharing, everyone thanked me for sharing with them! People were happy to know more about me! They wanted to know me! And I am glad that I shared, and look forward to our next Monday evening meeting.
Hi. I’m Morris. I’m a man. I’m black...or I’m African American… or I’m colored… now I’m confused. I’m disorganized. But, I’m good with names.
Stories shape who we are in massive and in microscopic ways.
I truly believe that narrative is the single most powerful force in the universe. The manifestation of God to humanity was called Logos, the Word. And we shape the world around us by the stories we tell and the stories that we absorb. The persistent ability of placebos to have physiological effects on people is testament to the power of story.
In the fifth grade, a girl I had a crush on told me she didn't like grape candy. I instantly responded that grape candy was the worst. And despite not actually disliking it, I told myself I didn't, reiterated it whenever the opportunity presented itself, and proceeded not to eat a single piece until after college. It was a grape blow pop… and it was great.
I use this tale ‘cause it’s an obvious example, a little funny, and mostly harmless, but the stories we tell others and ourselves are deeply impactful. What stories do you tell yourself or others about who you are? “I’m good at this. I’m bad at that. I like these types of people. I always. I never...because of the time.”
And despite living in the interconnected world of social media where seemingly everyone is connected to everyone else and “stories” are shared and consumed, they are not often examined. People are rarely invited to share more than the filtered and curated snapshots of the immediate. But it’s not just the stories of today or the milestones of note that shape us. This group was imagined as a place for people to have 3 primary opportunities to safely:
1. Share your story in a way that empowers or disempowers events in your past for fuller and healthier living.
2. Explore your life in a way that uncovers narratives that you are living out unconsciously.
3. Hear the stories of others and connect, learn, and grow from them.
In order to encourage members to dig into less explored areas of their past, each member will have the bulk of time available to share at two consecutive meetings. In our version of the group we chose to meet in two consecutive weeks and take the third week off.
During the first session of each new speaker, as much as is possible, the listeners should attempt to nonverbally encourage the speaker while not interrupting the unique flow of his or her thoughts. If the speaker prompts, the listeners should feel free to engage in more direct encouragement while attempting not not draw too much focus. While ideally the second week will follow a similar format, if necessary, the speaker should feel somewhat more empowered to draw the group into the sharing. Keeping the cross talk from getting out of hand is no small feat. Before or after the featured sharer has taken his or her opportunity, offer the entire group the chance to respond to prompts which should be provided in advance of the meeting.
In order to encourage members to dig into less explored areas of their past, each member will share at two consecutive meetings. During the first session of each new speaker, as much as is possible, the listeners should attempt to nonverbally encourage the speaker while not interrupting the unique flow of his or her thoughts. If the speaker prompts, the listeners should feel free to engage in more direct encouragement while attempting not not draw too much focus.
After five meetings of the group I am extremely excited for both the present reality and future prospects of the storytelling program. In the act of sharing people are often surprised by what they share, and even surprised at what they remember. Members of the group are also expressing increased closeness to one another as a result of the sharing.
The prospect of exposing oneself through story will give many people pause. As a person who filters everything he says, and has mastered the art of the illusion of openness, I understand better than most how safe, keeping one's own council feels. And, on the one hand, I know that sharing raw and rarely exposed parts of ourselves can have unbelievable healing powers, I also understand that not sharing isn't always about us. Sometimes we are being careful to maintain confidences, protect others or another reason altogether.
Bearing that in mind, I want everyone to be 100% comfortable with the amount of sharing that they do in the group. That includes declining to share. While, ostensibly, that runs counter to the mission of the group, the fact is that in listening to the stories of other we grow, and allow them to grow as well. I will ask that even those who decline to share reflect deeply on their own stories and find ways to grow through the process.
When I was around six years old, after having done something of which I was justifiably ashamed I overheard my mother begin to recount the story to an unknown party on the phone. Already being ashamed of my act, I was mortified at the prospect of someone knowing my error. In a panic I remember yelling at my mom not to tell the person. A panic stricken six-year-old is, I will confess, an amusing visual. It’s funny because most of the time a child of six doesn’t have a just cause for the panic being expressed. And, if I’m being entirely honest with myself, my panic was likely unjustified. Nonetheless, when my mom responded to my mania with laughter, a part of me instantly sealed up. I realized that my mom couldn’t be trusted with all of my secrets, so I didn’t.
In a moment of braggadocio the actor Will Smith and some friends of his joked about going skydiving. In an interview he talked about laying awake at night and other physiological reactions in the weeks leading up to the proposed skydive date. The realization he eventually has is that in and of itself, the future can't hurt you.
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