brain that are fully available to us at a time of imagination and creativity and storying are the very areas that will help us during this time of stress response.
Are you anything like me and notice that your story changes from day to day, or hour to hour, or really moment to moment? One day it’s a story of triumph. Another day it’s a story of terror. Another day it’s a story of just heart-wrenching grief and fear. And then, on a particular hour, it’s a story of connection and beauty and celebration. At a time of incident response, story is the power to make sense of the senseless. It is the power to bridge the gap between the unimaginable and the actual, the good and the bad, the terror and the triumph.
Story has the power to unite our felt experience of chaos into one coherent whole, so that no pieces of our experience is left behind or fragmented. What we know is that language shapes experience and that words do have power. So what language are you using toward yourself in your experience these days? On an interpersonal level have you noticed how contagious stories are? I mean, maybe we’d call them rumors or gossip, but really stories are what we use, and relays our culture and our interpersonal community. It is a way of transmission. Stories are contagious.When shared with each other they leave us with feelings, and questions, and reactions, and felt experiences.
The story is really a gift to another of the person’s experience. So, who are you surrounding yourself with these days? With all the quote-unquote social distancing that’s happening, that we’re still in relationship with one another, with messages, with stories. Whose stories are you listening to these days? What is the dominant narrative that you are interacting with, in relationship with, these days? To be present to another is to be present to their story and to their meaning of that felt experience. How can we break through the silence and the sort of political correctness and actually listen? Listen to each other’s stories of our experiences these days. Can we create space for each other at the next phone call, at the next colleague check-in, to truly hear the story?
Finally, on an organizational or programmatic level, it’s important to unpack the ways in which historically and traditionally stories have held wisdom, and yet many of our current ways of doing business, if you will, especially at a time of crisis, seem to not allow for the time and space for stories to be told, for stories to be shared. There is a real danger in that. Just as there is a danger in a sort of parallel process way of not supporting storying and play for a young child who has experienced the unthinkable. The danger of that child’s fragmentation, of sense of self, of assuming someone else’s truth as their own, of the incredible silence of shame and blame, of the ultimate danger of burying the untold story that Maya Angelou spoke about.
So there’s a real danger in organizationally and programmatically not leaving room for stories of felt experiences to be shared. There’s a danger of a single story, right? The danger of creating a homogenous experience and a uniform message about how people should feel during a time, right? About the ways in which we welcome certain stories and leave out others. That perpetuates oppression, and abuse of power, and exclusion. It is a misuse of power to be the one driving the message in the narration of an organization’s story. This is the time allow for people’s individual stories to weave a collective one. Story in this way can serve as a container