Thursday, January 20, 2011


I don’t recall exactly when I told my first story. It must have been sometime in early elementary school. It wasn’t told on a stage, or even at the front of a classroom. It was, instead, a story I told to myself, a tale about something that had happened to me. By the time I had reached junior high, I was aware that some of my stories were also interesting to others. Thus began a lifelong practice of shaping my experience with stories.
Many others have walked this path also, taking time to study and notice how their stories influence themselves and others. Summarizing a body of research on the effect our personal stories have on our moods and actions Sadie Dingfelder writes: “Taken together, psychologists’ narrative research makes one resounding point: We don’t just tell stories, stories tell us. They shape our thoughts and memories, and even change how we live our lives.” She goes on to say, “In particular, telling stories of struggle that turn out well may give people the hope they need to live productive lives. And stories that vividly describe turmoil seem to help people grow wiser in the aftermath of major life challenges.”
In ordinary conversation, our personal stories are rarely crafted. They simply pour out, disorganized and often interrupted. But those of us who consciously craft our personal stories for telling to others have some important choices to make. We choose how to start, how to end, what to include, which characters to mention and what to say about them. Given that our stories speak not only to others but also to us, perhaps the most pertinent questions we should ask are: “What do I want my story to tell me about me and the world I live in? What kind of person do I want to say I am?”
Browsing through vignettes from earlier times I am struck by the comparison of my role in earlier stories to the stories I tell today. Earlier stories cast me as a victim who struggled and became a hero. There was always humour, usually at the expense of other characters. They seemed entertaining to others, and reasonably true to fact so far as it could be remembered, but to me they somehow rang hollow.
Like their predecessors, today’s stories have humour, and a recounting of facts, so far as they can be remembered. But, in contrast, they cast me in an altered light. Rather than a hero, I tend to be a learner who was present at some event or series of events. I am a learner who can look to the past, then to the future and find the hope there. These newer stories are not necessarily perfect, but I like them better. They seem truer, somehow.

Dingfelder, Sadie F. (2011). Our Stories, Ourselves, Monitor on Psychology, American Psychological Association, 42(1) P42. Retrieved from

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