You Are Your Stories

The stories we tell ourselves turn into the stories we tell.

Through creative writing and storytelling, you can endeavor to increase your audience’s appreciation and acceptance of different people, different cultures and different lifestyles.

A Firebrand is Born

By Elizabeth Cutright

What happens when you tell a story?

  • You may transform a perspective.
  • You may explain a different point of view.
  • You might bring together opposing camps and unite wildly diverse groups.
  • You could impact a life, and fundamentally alter a community.
  • You can change the world.

Altered viewpoints can spark empathy and promote tolerance.

Through creative writing and storytelling, you can endeavor to increase your audience’s appreciation and acceptance of different people, different cultures and different lifestyles.  And that altered viewpoint or perception can spark empathy and promote tolerance.

Ultimately, stories bring us together by revealing that no matter where we are or how we live, we are so much more similar than we are different.

We all have moments from our childhood that we look back upon and label “formative.”  Those times that shaped us and made us who we are.  I’m a big believer that the stories we are told when we’re young become our stories – they meld into our framework and impact our sense of self.

They become a part of us and influence who we turn out to be.

So in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – who once said, “We are not the makers of history. We are made by history” – here’s a story about a story that continues to inform my worldview.  Looking back, I can see how it shaped so much of my personality and why, sometimes, I just can’t shut up about the issues I feel passionate about, even when it makes the rest of the room uncomfortable.

The year was 1979, and my family and I were still settling into the small coastal town we now called home.  I’d traded city parks and smoggy skies for rolling hills inhabited by horses, cattle and the occasional zebra.  I was granted unfettered access to everything within a couple of blocks from where we lived, and so I rode my bike down the middle of wide, traffic-free residential streets and spent hours exploring the “unpeopled beaches” (my dad’s phrase) that stretched out miles as far as the eye could see.  I chased lizards and learned to body surf.  I felt like I’d landed in my own little paradise.

And the only thing that could improve upon that idyll happened near the end of that first summer when my aunt and cousins decided to abandon their urban landscape and join us on our central coast adventure.  The quarters were tight, and my aunt and three of cousins squeezed themselves into one large room in my parents newly purchased seaside motel.  In the evenings, we’d all often watch TV together, sprawled out on the fold-out couches and cheerily munching on whatever snacks were at hand.  The room was wood paneled and shag carpeted, and the furniture had all seen better days, but it was cozy and inviting.

I’m sure we watched all kinds of superb television programming during that time – an era that I remember as the heyday of classics like Charlie’s Angels, The Love Boat, and (of course) Fantasy Island. It was joyful escapism for a cynical time, though I do hazily recall the sense of gloom and doom that pervaded that era of OPEC embargos and hostage crisis.

Then there’s this memory.  We’ve been allowed to stay up late because we’re watching a special TV event (remember those?).  For eight consecutive nights during primetime, ABC aired Roots, and we were transfixed by the story of Kunta Kinte.   Initially, I know I was confused by the narrative – it was probably a little too complex for my 7-year-old brain – until one crucial moment: after yet another attempt at freedom, Kunta Kinte is captured, and his foot is cut off.  I remember the horror as I began to realize what was about to happen.  I remember the camera cutting away from the swing of the ax to Kunta’s face contorted in agony, and I recall feeling anxious and increasingly frustrated that none of the other onscreen characters stepped in to help.  I couldn’t believe the spectators stood by watching as a fellow human being was beaten and maimed.  I was shocked.  I was frightened.  I was angry and so very, very sad.

I still can’t think about it without getting a lump in my throat.  To be sure, many elements contributed to the person I am today. Nevertheless, when I think about my inability to tolerate oppression and inequality, and the way  I still viscerally react to the vagaries of injustice, I know I’m connecting with that seven-year-old self: the one who was simultaneously horrified and galvanized by the story of that captured slave.

So, what can stories do?  They can change our perspective, they can enlighten our worldview, and they can connect us to the past and chart a course towards our future.

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