As children we revere and emulate the heroes of books and cartoons: Alice in Wonderland, Mary Poppins, Nancy Drew, to name a few. As we grow older, we look for a more “scientific” solution to our problems and seek help in books or individuals who advocate the use of theories that are the key to solving our problems. “If you do x, y, and z, and if you stick to them, you will resolve situation a,” they proclaim. And if you do not manage to follow through the x, y, or z, it is your own failure, not the theory’s.
It is more empowering, in my view, to resurrect the inner child within us, and to let ourselves learn from stories of other grown-up children like us. Their stories offer a wealth of information about struggles and ways of overcoming them, from dealing with addiction and abuse to living with a disability, exploring gender boundaries, losing a beloved friend, switching careers, having one’s ideas censored, being homeless, etc. The breadth of issues and the socioeconomic, racial, and political diversity of people who deal with them are enormous. The stories are everywhere: in memoirs, ethnographies, biographies, in-depth interviews, and people around us, ready to draw us in, to fascinate us, to sow the seeds of passion or doubt, provide a different perspective or insight, strengthen our resolve to pursue a goal, nurture our imagination, etc.
Stories are empowering because they highlight the vast human potential to overcome pain and numerous obstacles. In minute details, we can retrace someone’s deep sense of sadness before they achieved happiness, disease before they reclaimed health, failure before they made their dreams come true. We can discover a range of emotions that accompany the passage from the unwanted to the desired state of affairs. Finally, we can relate to or try to understand someone’s path in life.
In doing so, we can also understand our own lives, see pieces of ourselves in others’ stories: “If this person, under these many difficulties could overcome their problem, perhaps, if I try hard enough, I can do that, too,” we may reflect. And as we seek solutions, we are free to pick as many stories as it takes to make up our own story of personal growth. A story that, perhaps one day, will help others find their way to lead a more joyful and fulfilled life.
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