Imagine the ripple effect

In an oppressive society, there is a deficit of personal stories. We can hear government agenda and big players deciding our present or future. There is no place for us in the story. More precisely, we are not actors, we are just passive bystanders. No our agency. No our experience. Just a show that we watch day by day. It leads to desperation and a feeling of powerlessness. How to break the vicious circle?

There is a short-long answer to the question. Stories.

Stories break the status quo and release power, both tellers and listeners. You can control the story. It means you went through it: plot and emotions. Also transformations. They are yours. You can tell your own story when and where you feel, it is up to you. Therefore your personal story bears your power and the power of your listeners.

In the blog post, I describe my takeaways and inspirations from the book “How to Tell a Story” written by The Moth team. The Moth team focuses on storytelling an empowering tool for individuals and communities over the quarter of the century. They prepared a wonderful cookbook for every citizen.

Where to find them

Open some side of humanity through own way in the world.

Stories are everywhere. Our life from the earliest days is a story. When I discover something about myself, my environment, my family, or the world around me. I fill myself full of stories.

The trigger for my stories can be gaining or losing something that mattered to me. Someone revealed a secret to me. I made a tough choice or met reality I never thought, I would collide.

Stories also can commence from the moment when I encountered something a little out of an ordinary situation: getting off at the wrong stop or exit, meeting eyes across the room, my first kiss, encounter with a lie or betrayal, made a promise.

It can appear at the edge of my career, or my speak up for someone in a job place. I gave someone to make a step in my life or broke up. Maybe I just redefined personal boundaries with someone. Also, I moved to a new place, found a new community where I wanted to live or left one. Maybe I said goodbye to my childhood or the place where I was born. Or It was the last straw when I hoped about something.  

You, my reader, can see mining stories is not so hard. You already have important stories to tell. They are stories that no one else can tell. They are inside of you. Just before telling others stories, you need to make a job in your mind. A story is a work.

Is a story a myth?

Listeners are hungry for honesty.

No. Our memory is not perfect, mine too. In one year or decade, I can lose some details or confuse a sequence of actions in my story. Also, I can generalize some small steps or mix up names or weekdays.

Though some points of my story I can omit, I concentrate my attention more on other facts. I can even group some characters and their appearance. The personal story is not minutes from a meeting or a historical archive. It is an uneven way. Where only we can by composers. No one knows better your story than you.

Honesty and empathy are what the audience loves, not my perfection.

I remember, only I can describe a transformation within me. Myth can be about someone else, personal stories are only about me.

Give diversity

Each live experience is worthy and unique. So there are no same personal stories. Each teller provides their perspective and angle. I listen to them and broaden my mindset. I give place for something different when I tell. Even if I do not share the same experience or values, I can find the same emotions and meanings. Common emotions allow people to experience my story. Therefore, stories allow us to co-exist with different people and mutually teach us to be tolerant at least.  

Find yourself

“Sometimes you have to figure out who you are not before you can become who you are”.

I do not know whether you are a person who discovers your personality alone. I need an interlocutor, some individual, who I can think together with or at least talk with. Telling them my personal stories helps me find particular words and examples for filling up a narrative with my meanings, content and emotions.

How was I feeling in the moment of telling? Focused, prepared, delighted, grumpy, pessimistic, sceptical, tormented, ashamed, elated, invigorated, anxious, stunned, livid, burned out, bummed out, confident, crushed, motivated, cherished and so on. A story gives me tools for self-determination.

My preparation for a storytelling meeting solidifies my words and examines them: what and who I am. Not only for my friends or audience but for me. I am learning myself with stories, creating a new identity and maybe a new culture. Reflection gives thoughts and feelings.

Healing. To increase the self-discovery effect, we can bear a witness - a listener. It is a form of action. It is also sometimes the single most important thing that we can do in order to fix everything within us that is broken.

Space maker

One person’s no-fly zone is another person’s empowerment.

Sometimes I needed to tell stories, which is not attractive to many. I am here or there for a reason because my story reflects some reality. I appreciate that I can extract it; and I stand in this space, even when it makes me uncomfortable. This discomfort is a catalyst for change. Therefore, I tell this narrative again and again.

If I begin this uncomfortable story today, I am making space for people who will come behind me. I give some space for the next generation of like-minded people who want to continue changing the world. I am a spacemaker. This space is a foundation. The next generation needs to have something before what can be the origin of its inspiration in future. For example, it works for elderly people. Their stories are often a driving force for a new generation.

Launch conversation

Even if a story does not fit to my listeners' mindsets, I keep calm and continue to tell it. This tension between my personal experience and others' ways of life does not only broaden a counterpart's horizon but also creates a field for conversation.

Sparking conversations is a chance to create lasting bonds and mutual understanding. It can be commonality or difference.

Stories encourage listeners to ask “plus-one” questions and share stories of their own in response. These mutual findings give us a chance both: to be heard and to learn how to hear others.

I begin my stories with a hope to harvest a conversation of the equals.

Connect us

Like the shoe, the story has to fit.

There are myriads of experiences people have. And there is no way to step inside the same story. Although the plots can be different at all, they can seed a similar “what”. After I finish the story, listeners can find something common. To challenge the first real big problem, to say no, to choose a really important person as a friend. And many more transformations, we undergo, are similar. And these experiences can unite us and make strong ties. At the beginning of the story, we were strangers, but, at the end, we made a step toward each other. That is the ultimate point.

Long-term effect

Some stories can fit my listeners’ experience, but others do not. The potential impact of a story is not limited to the moment it is told. It is long-term. Individual needs time to understand what happened. To make internal analysis or acceptance can take days, months, years or decades. I do not worry about it. All I could do, I did. I seeded the world in a particular time and place with the hope that my story someday will be shared with other minds.

And yes, in my activism I see that works. What I did for years before, only now, began to appear in people’s minds and actions. That is a long effect of stories. Stories I told, stories I experienced. They work. Just keep patience.

Memory of transformation

Story gives me some plot and meaning, and also transforms me and my listeners.

Telling and retelling our own stories helps cement them in our collective memory. “Our” can be our family, our working collective, our local community or our society.  

Reflecting back can help illustrate how much the journey of the story has changed me and the people around me. Experiencing the story we can observe transformative effects: physical, situational, emotional, behavioural, and attitudinal. Making it regularly, I (and we) train memory about the transformation.

The simple and the complex

The world is complex and contradictory enough. Understanding other domains, political situations or cultures is too laborious for me. Media noise, post-truth and cancelling cultures break intellectual and spiritual foundations as well as blur the picture even more. A lot of reading, and investigating can not help to set my opinion or position. Total mess is everywhere.

In this case, personal stories are a tool helping me to see behind too-complicated issues, or professional identities: behind masks we bring everywhere. Simultaneously, stories do not simplify the vision to white and black. They give us to see what is beyond the scene, that is, individuals, their lifestyle, agencies, practices, emotions, and beliefs.

Stories take me and my audience from binary thinking into something more complex. Hearing a person's lived experience has the power to dismantle my previously held beliefs. Maybe not fully; but the way has begun.

Story influences both: a teller and listener directly. It can be something very small revealing a bigger picture. Or vice versa, sometimes, a bigger story can tie into a bigger event that provokes changes inside a teller.

What is more, our narratives break political divergence and prepare a foundation for a new fusion - a new community.

Launch communities

First, stories are the currency of the community.

Second, they tear down walls, unite cultures, and help people realize they are more alike than different, all while celebrating what is unique to you.  

Also, I know that true emotions evoked by storytellers are a common denominator for listeners. It is a glue that connects storytellers and listeners. Emotions create “electricity” between tellers and listeners. A community was born.

Adding Martin Luther King, Jr., Greta Thunberg, Colin Kaepernick, Mahatma Gandhi, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg whose stories called people to act and drive monumental changes.

Not all of us will bear the mantle of history, or even have the opportunity to run for house coops or student councils; but strong storytelling skills can and will transform us, and other individuals, build communities and change worlds whether big or small.

If I find the courage to tell my own story, I am adding my grain of sand to this world. Sometimes that grain of sand can start a new movement. Sounds great, right?

Because we go through many life changes, where one story ends another begins. Sometimes, it is hard to begin.