"Tell me your story."
I relish asking this of someone I've just met. It's a great litmus test for how comfortable they are with you and their own vulnerability. The response I get typically falls somewhere between a quizzical look of surprise, a blank stare that says, "You've got to be kidding," a laughing brush-off with, "Oh, you don't want to hear my story," or an agreeable smile as they launch into their tale. I feel terrible when someone gets tearful and changes the subject, looks away, and everything gets awkward.
I enjoy telling my story.
There are parts that you've probably never heard. Like the car I caught on fire. Or my blind date to Europe. Or the time my Grandma and I thought we were being chased by a rabid skunk. Or the moment I discovered I could arrange music. Or my darkest chapter when I briefly considered suicide as an option.
I like telling my story because each time it's told, I am reminded life is precious. I'm reminded of the value of others who have been integral in my growing up, my healing, my learning. Sometimes, I'll share an account I've told dozens of times and suddenly see dots collide, connecting a significant thread of purpose or meaning or "aha" stretching from my present day all the way back to the heart of that story. I also gain understanding in how my failures and mistakes have been redeemed. I gain a sense how much I've learned and grown since "that time at 4-H camp," or how God guided my navigation through muddy chapters and seasons, bringing me to fresh chapters and adventures.
This past week, I read an article where the author stated that women find it healing to share their stories with other women. The hard-wired natural nurturing connection between women creates a vital support system when we are pressed and stressed. Even in the middle of sharing our tales, we are processing our feelings, what happened, and what to do going forward. And the listeners benefit because they engage through empathy and common themes from their own lives, sometimes seeing their own dots connect.
Storytelling has a neurological impact. If you sit down and watch a slide presentation with bullet points, the language center of your brain decodes the messages. That's it. Blah blah. Blah.
If you're listening to a great storyteller, every part of your brain engages as if you were an actual part of the story being told. Imagery engages the sensory parts of your brain. Descriptions of physical action -- "jumping into the cold, dark water, feet first" triggers your brain's motor cortex. Emotional buy-in activates actual physiological responses of your breathing rate, heart rate, feeling chills or goosebumps, even shedding tears. I'll even go a step further and say that if someone is narrating a tale that has spiritual elements, your spirit responds as well.
SO much better than a PowerPoint slideshow. You're there. You're in the story. You're feeling what they feel. Your empathy and emotions stir and you connect with the teller of the tale.
Instead of memorizing facts, you connect. Relationship has been altered because of new information introduced in a way that impacted you. Changed you. Moved you. And we each realize we're not alone ... we're not the only ones who feel this way. Felt this way. Or walked through this frustration or elation.
So when someone says, "Tell me your story," step into your courage and share the real story. Include the hurts, the awkwardness, the fears, the struggle and delight, the laughter and angst, the action, the climate, the food ... dare to offer true connection.
We need each other's stories. We need connection to grow, heal, and move forward. Even if all we do is pause to take a moment and be grateful that we have a story.