the power of story: giving a gift

I’ve been reminded several times over the past week of the power of stories, particularly our own stories. I’d like to tell about one of those reminders.

Last Thursday evening, I sat on wooden steps inside a professor’s home, looking through an open window into a long dining room filled with hanging plants, students around a table, and the music of silverware and conversation. My own plate in my lap and my friend Jayne next to me, I listened as one of the guests that evening shared her own powerful story.

She narrated her post-college years, early work she and her husband did in Africa with public health, and how she eventually came to hold her position at a nearby college, where she teaches classes and helps direct programs concerned with social justice issues, and with experiential learning opportunities for students through service and study abroad. Recently, she told us, she has been conducting research on how poorer communities in developing countries are impacted by short-term western volunteers from wealthier countries like the U.S. I was not surprised when she shared with us that she had gone into the research with a very post-structuralist mindset; she expected her results to indicate largely negative (though unintended) consequences in the communities because of said volunteers.

What she wasn’t expecting, however, was preliminary findings on how important the opportunity to share their own story is to members of developing communities; and the presence of outside volunteers, she told us, allows for this opportunity. This strong, confident woman then reminded us how she had just told us her own story; and sharing her story multiple times over the years  has helped her develop her identity, contributing to both the woman she is today and the woman she will be tomorrow, and the woman she will continue to become all throughout the rest of her life. And sharing her story impacts the listeners, too.

There’s more to be said about volunteering in developing communities-much more, some of which came up later on in the conversation around the dining room table that night. But this point, this thought about the power of being able to share one’s story, and the tremendous potential in that for both the listener and the teller, is the one that is most dominant in my recollections of last Thursday’s conversation.

Friends, there is power in sharing our stories. And there is power in listening, and allowing someone else the space to tell their tale. It’s a tremendous gift, story. Would you consider giving it during this Christmas season, either by sharing your own story, or by listening to another’s?

Look for other posts coming soon on how I’ve been reminded lately of the power of stories. Thanks for allowing me to share this one with you today!

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