human, the storytelling animal

i just read too scared to pee – about women in nairobi’s slums for whom it is just too dangerous to go to the washroom at night.

details. it is details that make things real for us. statistics like “30% of men in a south african survey believed that women ask to be raped” are scary but they can’t grab us as much as the story of the woman who pees into a plastic bag at night because the 10-minute walk to the public latrine might get her raped. i haven’t even told a good story yet and already the imagination runs wild and questions pop up.

  • what do you mean, “public latrine”?
  • how come she doesn’t have a washroom in her house?
  • who are these animals that make her live that way?
  • i go to the washroom at least twice at night, how would i survive something like this?

it’s the same with other situations. the other day, a young woman talked about the things she has to do each morning because she has juvenile diabetes. a guy tells a story about the difficulties with finding work because as a single father, he needs to take his 6-year-old son to and from school each day; the son’s social anxiety makes it impossible for him to go to after school care. and when i was working with people with chronic pain, it was the daily details that people were talking about all the time: taking two hours each morning to get out of bed, not having the strength to make elaborate meals and therefore eating a lot of junk food, difficulty wearing shoes …

when we hear the details and the stories, we connect. why is it often so difficult to tell the stories then, when they are so crucial? and what is it that moves us when we go the other way and say, “spare me the details”? are the two connected?

what’s your experience with telling and hearing stories?

4 thoughts on “human, the storytelling animal

  1. Evan

    I’m very analytical and didactic and stories still hook me in ways that analysis and teaching don’t.

    In my 20’s when I was trying to explain myself so others would understand me I found the principle: it is the most deeply individual that is most universal.

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  3. Michelle Clausius

    Those are difficult stories to tell and to hear. I struggle with the telling of our youth’s stories – the “best” stories are sometimes the most horrific – it feels sensational to tell them. I get shocked hearing them and I am “used to it” so I worry about relaying them to our donors etc. It is a balancing act always.

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