I was intrigued to discover an article recently explaining how a key quality in leadership is effective storytelling – defined as the ability to “shape and express engaging narratives”. Some of the reasons offered for this were that good story-telling:
- boosts morale and empowerment
- builds ties and social networks
- gives a fresh perspective and helps to ‘contain’ conflict in groups
- helps people handle stress better
- helps people find purpose and meaning
There are, of course, leaders and people in power who are good at a kind of ‘storytelling’ which has the opposite effect; where their leadership and power is built and rested upon narratives that demean, disempower and divide. And we’ve certainly seen plenty of that in political debates lately as well as the defence in the recent Stanford sexual assault case.
Anyway, it got me thinking about our ‘stories’ – the narratives of our lives – and how in telling and retelling our stories we are not only expressing who we once were or have become, we are also dynamically shaping the narrative of who we are becoming as we interpret and reinterpret the meaning of the events that have shaped us.
I wonder how many of us would ever attempt to articulate our lives as a whole story? If someone else was to write your story, would there be ‘chapters’ that you would prefer to be edited out?
I recently had the pleasure of organising a surprise family get-together for my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, and I wanted to ‘tell their story’ in a creative way, so I wrote a poem. I won’t include it here, but as I so easily amused myself working out verses for the earlier chapters of their life, I found myself suddenly floored and lost for words when it came to ‘shaping and expressing a narrative’ about the loss of their first born son, my older brother, to cancer in 2002 aged 34.
I found myself needing to heavily edit their story and move swiftly on to the later verses. Any words I attempted to mould together seemed tenuous and inadequate as a means of expressing an event so profoundly painful and deeply life-altering.
But none-the-less it remains part of my parents’ story – part of our story as a family. And part of my story as a sister. I may be able to edit it out of a poem, but I can’t edit it out of our lives. Ian’s life and death shaped who I am, probably more than any other person. Much of my identity has been both hinged and unhinged on his presence and his absence.
My brother’s death is one of many dark and unlovely chapters in my life I could be tempted to ‘edit out’ of the story. But it strikes me that if I were to pursue that course, it would have two effects:
- Firstly, it would confine me to a shrunken space; to only expressing those bits of my story that are pleasing, uplifting and ‘nice’ – I’ve got to be honest, with that approach, I’d be on starvation rations pretty quickly…..
- Secondly, it would mean those chapters remain forever static; becoming calcified and unchanging skeletons in a suffocating closet.
Newsflash: that’s not me.
I want my darker chapters to be pierced perpetually by God’s light; to be opened up and edited with the creative renewal and healing that God’s abundant love and faithfulness can bring. I want all my chapters – ‘nice’ and ‘nasty’ – to be dynamic stories that I can tell and re-tell because they say something about a visionary Creator whose mission in me, in all of us, is to bring joy from mourning, beauty from ashes and life out of darkness and death.