Over the past several days there are few among us who have not been directly or indirectly affected by Hurricane Harvey. The images and reports are stunningly heart wrenching. In addition to the continuous catastrophic impact of the storm’s devastation and flood damage, it is the personal stories that have engaged us. There are so many people who are affected. In addition to those who escaped or were rescued (mostly with just their lives) neighbors, community friends, business owners, first responders, aid workers, and volunteers are sharing their stories. These disasters can happen to anyone at any time. Each of us can feel shock, disbelief, and hopefully empathy. We are touched by the generosity and courage that underscores these stories.
In every culture storytelling is the way people connect. Stories teach, entertain, reinforce moral values, and preserve culture and identities in rich and meaningful ways.
We are emotional beings and sharing stories creates a space where we can make a connection between our emotions and information. It is one of the most effective ways for human beings to relate to one another.
Throughout generations, listening to each other’s stories allows us to feel a connection to, and a part of, something bigger than ourselves. We listen for that which is familiar and strange. We feel as if we have access to common ground. We enter a shared space, however small that space may be. When we pay attention to a person’ s story, we are paying attention to them. They feel as if they have value. The people who are suffering from this storm matter.
In today’s world, there is precious little time to sit and tell each other our stories. Distractions are everywhere. The ever present pings and buzzes interfere and trains of thought get derailed. The story teller edits for fear of “going on for too long.” When we are truly present with someone and they tell us their story, we do not talk about ourselves, we don’t interrupt, we connect emotionally and we follow the emotion we feel in that moment. We can ask questions, of course, but not till later. The storyteller’s “flow” is important to the story.
When we hear another’s experience, especially of heartbreak or despair, we discover that a bond exists, despite philosophical, cultural, or political differences.
When we discover that similar experiences lead us to different conclusions, we might be able to view our differences from another perspective. The more we understand another person’s story, the more opportunity we have to understand their life. We may have never thought of what it must be like to lose everything; to wonder where your family is and to feel as if you may not survive. Listening carefully to others who are experiencing these things helps us to remain connected to our humanity.