Discovering Wisdom…through Story Listening
In 1994, my life changed. My Granny (the best storyteller I’ve ever heard) died and I picked up her baton and began my journey as a storyteller. But it was also the year I discovered the transformative power of collecting and sharing personal stories. And, that wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for Christopher J. Kinman M.SC., M.DIV. Our paths crossed while working at Matsqui Abbotsford Community Services, I managed the fundraising and public relations department and Christopher was a counsellor working with young offenders and their families. We soon struck up a friendship around our interest in the power of story.
One day, he invited me to be a guest editor and writer for a journal he produced called Local Wisdom. The purpose of these journals was to collect ‘real life’ stories (from people who were marginalized in society) and share them, anonymously, with community service providers (e.g. probation officers, school counsellors, social workers, the police, etc.). And in doing so, provide a platform for these voices to be heard. I was to interview mothers of young offenders who were reluctant to attend his support groups. As a former journalist, I welcomed the opportunity to step back into listening and writing, from an objective perspective. While they were hesitant to share their story in a group setting, we hoped they might do so, one on one. And, after a number of lengthy conversations explaining who I was and what I was looking for, eight women agreed to be interviewed.
I explained the goal was to collect the wisdom they had honed over the years of caring for their children and dealing with social services. At first, they were a little reluctant, but once they realized their advice, knowledge and ‘lived experience’ could help other families they became a lot more comfortable. In fact, most said that they were surprized to learn that anyone would value what they had to offer. The end result was this issue of Local Wisdom,The Other Side of Silence Wisdom of the Mothers
As I look back on that experience, over 20 years ago, I realize it was the starting point of my self-directed research and work into ‘applied’ narrative. I will never forget some of those women or their stories of resilience, courage and most of all, love. And, apart from a couple of pretty lacklustre attempts at poetry by me (haven’t we all written poetry at some point?), the words captured in this journal bring back strong, vivid memories of women who opened up their hearts and told their difficult, personal, stories. I remember how pleased I was to hear from Christopher that a few of these women decided to join his support groups and one in particular became a powerful spokesperson for social change.
Why am I sharing this old publication now? Well on the eve of the Narrative Matters 2016 conference, in reviewing my presentation, I was reminded of this pivotal experience that taught me that the power of story is not always in the telling, but often in the listening. Listening is a gift…and so many of us carry stories (and wisdom) just waiting to be heard. It’s a gift we can all give.