For many years, I have come to learn the inherit power of an individual’s story. A person’s biography, when engaged with meaningfully can inspire, challenge, encourage, remind, mould and even change another person’s life (if not your own). Think about the last time you sat down with someone to hear their story – did it change, encourage or inspire you?
In my role as a high school history teacher, I have seen this day after day, where 1000s of students have engaged with the stories of people from bygone eras, who often come from a diverse range of empires, countries, cultures and religions. Whilst the differences are aplenty in comparison to their own lives, in that moment of curiosity, students find what it means to be truly human and how their experiences, values and beliefs can impact upon the way they live their life. This experience inevitably leaves you changed.
It never ceases to amaze me, how students walk away inspired – particularly when they discover something about a historic figure’s character or life experience that they never knew before, but is critical to their success or elevation in life. Often In these moments of engaging in another person’s narrative, students realise the humanity behind great people and how this can enhance (or inspire) their own personal narrative. In this exchange, students also develop a greater sense of empathy, which helps in their development to become less self-centred.
Beyond the classroom experience, I have also seen the profound impact that sharing your life story can have on yourself, or those around you. Through experiences like those created at Burn Bright’s, National Leadership Camp – young people maturely rise to the challenge of trusting each other with their stories. What often surprises me though, is that in these experiences, young people regularly express that they have never really been given an opportunity to stop, and share their narrative in a meaningful way. Moreover, I am also surprised by how deeply students appreciate that an adult is intrigued in their life story and willing to listen, without judgement.
For a young person, the act of articulating their own story, helps them to find meaning in the world. By exploring their story in the company of others, teenagers begin to identify the positive + negative experiences, relationships, beliefs and values that have shaped them. When no distractions have them captivity, a transaction of trust occurs in story-sharing community, where deep relationships and respect are born quickly. The narrator is changed, as are the individuals that hear it. Furthermore, all involved connect at a deeper level, thus creating a bond that enriches a deep sense of community – our number weapon to fight mental illness and increase wellbeing.
This phenomenon is something that is unique to the human species. Humans are the only species on planet earth that are so fascinated with the past, that they seek to engage with it meaningfully, in the attempt to help discover the deeper meaning of our own lives. In doing so, we begin to answer one of the fundamental human questions – why am I here?
In the midst of rising youth mental illness and pressures from social media, there is no greater time then to create safe, story-sharing communities, where young people can disconnect from their distractions and be given an opportunity to meaningfully engage with their biography and that of others.
Therefore, why not reach out to a young person today to hear their story. Ten minutes of your time, with some insightful questions are all you need. Be active as you listen and don’t be tempted to interrupt!
Engaging in this type of transformative thinking, you will help to tackle the increasing epidemic of loneliness that is creeping into our culture today.
We’d love to hear how your experience of engaging in another person’s story, can help build value in your own life, as well as theirs.