In 1987 renowned Gestalt psychotherapist, Erving Polster, wrote a book called “Every Person’s Life is Worth a Novel”. In this book he writes:
Stories must not only be told, but also heard. What is said gains value from the listeners understanding…
He goes on to write:
We also use stories to join our lives with those of other people…
I recently had the pleasure of meeting some of the founders of a remarkable and powerful new venture called Narrative 4 begun by writers, artists and educators who are passionate about ‘hearing’ and ‘joining’. Narrative 4 aims to enable teenagers globally to come together to exchange stories as a tool for social change. The exchange is intended to be literal – an ultimate act of reflection. The idea is for the young people to swap stories and then read each other’s stories aloud to one another – to allow words to transcend all differences and thread together human experience. The stated ethos of Narrative 4 is:
We believe sharing stories is the key to opening the world. We call it ‘Fearless hope through radical empathy’
I call it inspired.
We all crave an attuned listener. We carry our stories with us deep in our pockets, etched on our hearts, buried in hidden places. Sometimes our stories are legible, easy to read, but sometimes it is as if they are written on the wet wall of a dark cave and we spend years waiting for someone to strike a match.
And when the day finally comes, the sudden exposure can be glaring. The attention can call forth panic, anxiety, shame, trepidation, but ultimately relief. We want to be heard. We need to be seen. And even the small flickering flame from a single match can shed enough light for us to look around and realize that we are not alone with our stories. Sharing our truths is an act of healing.
I’ve experienced this firsthand both as a client and a therapist. Every week in my workshop I listen intently as participants grow brave enough to write their stories and offer them up to the group. We are not there to assess or critique or shape or edit. We are there to listen. People come to Write To Be You to be seen and heard, and to see and hear. I am humbled by the courage of my participants and I am witness to the bonds that powerfully and delicately ‘join’ us through story, encouraging self worth, enabling understanding, embracing recovery.
I am often amazed at how few questions people ask in social situations. Is it that we are bound by decorum not wanting to appear nosey? Or is it that so many people are wrapped tightly in their own inward facing cocoon that it doesn’t occur to them to reach beyond that and explore another’s landscape?
Questions are essential to social interactions, and yet contemporary technology encourages a ‘me’ centred paradigm where our young people are at risk of becoming voyeurs and not listeners. Let’s encourage curiosity in ourselves and younger generations. Next time you meet someone you don’t know, practice drawing out their story. Be interested. See what you can learn about yourself by listening to someone else.
And while you’re at it, please join me in exploring and supporting Narrative 4 as a dedicated group of individuals step up to link our ever divided world. Personal narratives are thirsty for oxygen, buried within us they can fester and wilt. Now more than ever we need to return to the ancient arts and allow them to work their communal magic alongside technology.
It is not only in recent years that the most essential tales told have gone ‘viral’… the passage and momentum of storytelling has been with us from the beginning of time. We just need to keep breathing fresh air into stale corners and lighting that match in the darkest of caves.
A writing prompt inspired by Narrative 4: Write about discovering a story on the wall of a cave. Who has been there before you? What is the writing on the wall? Imagine you are illuminated by the light of the match. Tell both of your stories. Give yourself permission to write in fragments, dream images, floating words. Feel your way…