Reality Check: When We Share Stories

Our culture includes so many forms of story-sharing. There are documentaries, movies, books, TED talks, and so on. We share stories of difficulties, actions, triumphs and disasters, both truth and fiction.
Do you share stories of your life? Do you value the stories that others share with you? Ultimately, are there both positive and negative aspects to sharing those stories?
I’ll share this story about Anne (not her real name) as an example for you.
Anne went through some very difficult years. Her husband was injured, her finances fell into disarray, her health suffered and her children had serious behavioural issues. Anne struggled, discouraged, often in tears. She saw no clear path out of what looked like disaster.
A few years have passed and Anne is on a new path. The family has adapted to the husband’s injury. Anne has chosen and trained for a new line of work which has put them on a path to financial stability. And while neither her health nor her children have suddenly become perfect, at least there is stability. Chaos no longer reigns.
That’s a nice story (and a true one.) Is it inspiring? Are you thinking, “If Anne can get through those problems, then I can get through mine”?
Or did you find it discouraging? “That’s all well and good for Anne, but she doesn’t have my problems.” You might even perceive it as arrogant or smug. “Easy for her, but not for me!”
As listeners, we have a choice. We can choose to perceive such stories as helps or as hindrances. Personally, I find some helpful—when I observe people who have faced dire circumstances but who later emerge—living better, freer lives than before. Those stories can remind us that any dark hole we are in now may not be our fate forever. The best truly may be yet to come.
The story-teller has a choice too. If you are living through a difficult time in your own life story, does it help to tell others? A comment by Dr. William Glasser about painful pasts comes to mind, where he suggests that taking one trip through our misery is more than enough. It can serve as a cautionary reminder; we don’t need to keep revisiting the suffering.
Does it help to share our suffering? Or does the telling and retelling embed the pain? In addition, is it helpful for others who hear your story to know that you, too, have your share of difficulty? Or does learning that everybody has difficulties just spread discouragement?
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. As is often the case, my suggestion comes down to a question of choice. Asking, “Would you like to tell me how you…?” or “Would you like to hear how I …?” offers the opportunity for the other to agree or not.
Likewise, when considering whether you want to share your story or hear someone else’s, remember that you have choice. It’s within your power to say, “Thank you for asking but I’d rather not talk about that.” Or “Thank you for your offer to share but I think I’ll pass.”
A helpful guideline is to ask yourself, “Will telling/hearing the story make things better or worse? Is it helpful or not helpful?”
What do you think of sharing stories?

This entry was posted in Choosing Perspective and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.