Stories have the power to change our lives, for better or worse. Or, as the American poet Muriel Rukeyser wrote cryptically: “The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.”
In the philosophy classes I teach, I ask students to share their stories, because these are the stuff of their lives, the supposed difficult times but also those in which they felt restored and whole. There is something quite powerful sitting in a room with people who share their stories openly and honestly, and learn from each other.
It’s sad but most of us don’t take the time to tell our stories or listen to those of others. We may live on the same block or attend the same religious community or even occupy the same office space, but we go through life without knowing each other. I believe, by not sharing our stories with others, we are less—and so are they.
In the philosophy classes I share a model or paradigm of stories that shows their dimensions. The model has four parts: My story—who I am. Your story—who you are. Our story—what is the story of the group to which we belong, including the class itself but going beyond that to the family or any other larger group to which we belong. And the great story, or the story of the human species.
It’s my experience that the more we share in telling and listening to stories, the more we grow. And, the converse is also true: the more we hide from others, the more isolated we become.
There are really few places left where stories can be told and heard. We live in an increasingly complex world of information from many sources, creating a frenzy. We seldom take the time to really listen to someone else or even share our stories. Without such places, we lose touch not only with others, but ourselves.
Ask yourself a few questions:
When was the last time you listened to someone else tell their story?
When was the last time you felt comfortable enough to tell your story?
Do you know the story of your own community, the country, the world?
In a world seemingly spinning out of control with flurries of information, few of us take the time to stop, look and listen to stories.
Okay, class, here’s your assignment. Sit down quietly somewhere for five minutes away from cell phones and ask yourself how you feel about your life story right now. Don’t panic. No papers are due. Then, in the next week, find time to sit with someone else and ask them the same question about how they are feeling about their lives. And just listen.
Next class I will ask you to tell the story of what happened.
(John C. Morgan is a writer and teacher. His latest book just out and available on Amazon is the story of his ancestor, Matthew Lyon, first American tried and jailed for criticizing President John Adams under the 1798 Alien and Sedition Act, an act which not only penalized newspaper editors and others but also limited immigration. The book is entitled Resist Tyranny. Matthew Lyon: Defender of Liberty).