The Power of Narrative

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“Let me tell you a story.”

I love those words. I can remember as a child waiting eagerly for whatever followed, because I grew up with relatives and teachers who used narrative as a primary tool. They told stories. And there’s a power in that, one with the ability to produce such resonance or dissonance that the world can be forever changed. That is why this time of year it is of particular importance to be mindful of the stories we tell ourselves.

I have had the concept of “narrative” on my mind recently because of the Common Core State Standards. There is a push to minimize literature in our curriculum and focus on Informational texts. Here’s the rub, every text is an informational text. Every article, graph, excerpt from an autobiography, they tell a story. They aren’t always in the structure of our standard narrative with the fixed setting, characters and conflict, but they are stories, nonetheless. Heck, even a math problem can be a narrative. If you don’t believe me, find a second grader and ask to assist with her math homework. Trust me, you’ll be telling stories.

Beyond the significance of this point for my teaching colleagues and I, lies the importance of narratives in our own lives, especially this time of year. It is typically stressful to begin with, but add our Nation’s recent tragedy and we find ourselves gripped by one particular story: evil and the loss of innocence. It’s a tragic, but common feature appearing since the beginning of oral storytelling. But so is the advent of the hero, the virgin birth, the everyday miracle. Yes, there are narratives to choose from, and that is vital.

I don’t write light and uplifting stories, so this may sound strange coming from me, but we should focus on a positive slant concerning the stories in our lives. That’s not to say throw on the proverbial “rosy sunglasses” and prance around like everything is fine. Because that’s ridiculous, because it is not. But that also doesn’t mean we should dwell in the darkness.

How you see your holidays unfolding, the story you tell about the travel or the interactions with your family will affect how you conduct yourself. The ol’ self-fulfilling prophecy. I’m as guilty of it as the next person. On the surface, it’s a simple mistake of judgment, but when it is repeated it becomes a belief. And belief can distort everything, for good or bad. And once you filter all stories through the only one you have available, nothing is as it seems.

Therefore, believe in letting the story unfold. Watch the characters develop. Don’t mentally “read ahead” and try to outwit the writer. Enjoy the setting and the conflicts. Neither are typically permanent and often the resolution of the latter is the most rewarding piece of all. Let the story breathe and throw away your preconceived notions of how it should be.

The Holidays are a time filled with the unexpected. And in the ensuing week I wager that acts of kindness will make a return. The world seeks balance, and its story is constantly righting from the last dip. So let us help by not minimizing, but in honoring, and in telling ourselves what we know is true, and that everything else will eventually be revealed.

Happy Holidays.

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