Why would anyone care about my life story?
Our western culture, our educational system, our family systems, our working worlds — all conspire to make us critical thinkers. The best of those lessons provide discernment, good judgment, and choice. Conversely, it can result in constant negative assessments of ourselves and others. Within that dark side come struggles with self-esteem and self-worth, shame and guilt, not to mention all the “isms” – ageism, sexism, racism, etc.
Some of us are more loaded with those presets than others, making it hard to navigate our lives joyfully. Most of us have varying levels of self-criticism vs self-worth, but we don’t talk about it much. Rather, we avoid situations that might trigger those negative feelings. Given those issues, it’s no wonder many of us feel shy about telling our personal stories. How might anyone who hears them judge us? How might we be reminded ourselves of events that led us astray?
The fact is, we’re all walking stories, every single one of us. We came into the world with story on our backs, lifting the life stories of our parents and forebears. Those stories embody traditions, tribes, geopolitical whereabouts, and cultural patterns that inform what our lives will become. There’s no “right” story, instead our choices and inbred patterns roll out a path for us to follow or to change, depending on our choices.
David Issay, a journalist whose life work is to awaken people to their personal life stories, has publicly proven the value of telling our stories. He created StoryCorps and its offshoot One Small Step to help us share our humanity and break through partisan blockages. Through 40-minute exchanges between family members, friends, and even perceived enemies, Issay has demonstrated that stories connect and heal us, both in telling our own and listening to others. At the core of us all is the yearning for connection, not separation.
Given the clear value of telling one’s life story, at any age actually, why do we hesitate telling it? Some people hesitate from shyness, feeling uncomfortable as the center of attention. Some judge the events in their lives with shame or guilt, embarrassed by the choices they made, the people they may have hurt, the time wasted. And some people keep themselves so busy with work, children, worries, busy-ness that they don’t stop long enough to take a breath; time flies by and there’s little time for contemplation. Maybe even the idea of contemplation is frightening to those whose lives are hard, who feel they don’t have enough money, time, friends, family, purpose, etc. And many people simply don’t realize that their stories actually matter. That the telling can be life changing, even if there is no progeny for whom or to whom to tell it.
Here at Live On, we have been gratified by the transformative experiences people have expressed after recording their histories. They recognize at last that we may not be the original authors of our own story, given our families of origin, the cultures we were born into, the lack or excess of resources we experience. But within those benefits or limitations as the case may be, we are thinking/feeling/loving/learning people, each doing this life in our own unique ways, and doing the best we can. By opening to our own stories, and gracing others who care to hear them, we have profound opportunities for growth and change. Those old judgments fall away.