“Think of a story that impacted your life. It can be something that happened to you. It can be a movie or a book. It could have happened yesterday or half a lifetime ago.”
Educator and leadership trainer Julianne “J” Miranda led off the 2020 series of Lunch with the League by asking the large audience gathered in Whitlock Hall to perform this simple exercise. Stories have power. Our own stories help shape our lives. Telling them well helps others to see a world beyond their own. When we work together as a community to share and hear our stories, we can open a pathway to greater community health and wellbeing and to fuller inclusion.
Recently so much has been written about the division in our country. We are said to be divided by defining traits such as sex, race, and culture; or, by arbitrary things such as fashion or health and diet. Miranda’s presentation reminds us that we are united as human beings in more fundamental ways. To get to that place of communication, we have to learn about ourselves as storytellers, and become deep and attentive listeners so we are able to learn about and hear more fully our own and others’ stories.
Stories are an indivisible characteristic of every world culture and of each human being. Stories bind storytellers and listeners together through humor, education, and, most importantly, through empathy. When we as individuals remember an impactful story, it is because it has challenged us to make choices that produce a certain outcome. This is true for individuals and is true for communities. What are the stories we tell ourselves about who we are as a community?
Miranda led a contemplative and exploratory discussion that challenged listeners to recognize how their own view of the world has been formed. She invited attendees to look inward and seek to better understand their own stories and to listen more fully and effectively to the stories of others.
She described the actual shape of the circle as a way to facilitate such exchanges. When we sit around a round table together, we not only face each other, we are all exactly equally positioned: that is “the purpose of a circle” which has no point of origin or ending. When we sit in a circle, we “put down our backpacks,” look at each other as equals, and can begin to talk, to share stories.
Miranda emphasized the importance of “the power of curiosity” to this process. If we have an authentic curiosity about the world, we are eager to hear more stories than our own. We all make decisions based on the group we have been part of and whose cultural perceptions we share. Yet the power of curiosity, something we humans all have, allows us to expand our worldview. From there we build the capacity to more fully comprehend and restore values within a community. Whether it is through the eyes of people with shared history or through the eyes of people a world away, hearing, understanding, and empathizing with the stories of others unites us and propels us forward together.
In times like ours, it is especially good to sit down with people of various backgrounds and attend events like Lunch with the League that are truly nonpartisan. Everyone present had the shared goal of learning, growing and making informed decisions that help our community prosper.
Lunch with the League is a free, public event that takes place the first Monday of each month in Whitlock Hall, 212 S. Green St. This facility is fully accessible. Bring a brown bag lunch and plan to attend at noon Feb. 3.
The League of Women Voters, open to men as well as women, is a nonpartisan, political organization that encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase public understanding of major policy issues, and influences policy through education and advocacy. For information about the League, visit the website at www.lwvmontcoin.org; or, send a message to LWV P.O. Box 101, Crawfordsville, IN 47933.