You Choose How to Tell Your Story

Raising my sons has given me perhaps more insight into human nature than any other endeavor I have undertaken. Anything.

You Choose How to Tell Your Story
Photo by Nathaniel Tetteh on Unsplash

Storytelling Epiphany

My spoken word mentor Sher-D Wilson teaches about epiphany moments in our lives. Moments that like flashes of light illuminate a swath of our inner lives and teach us oh-so-much. (sometimes they burn, sometimes they warm us in their glow)

Here’s a small one:

My eldest son, first grade at catholic school. His assignment: write a prayer. Okay, so far, so good. Next, and without his consent, he’s supposed to read his prayer on the loudspeaker. It’s his turn. Go.

Well, his prayer is private. It’s his. He says no, respectfully. Again. No. Not an option. They call me. He runs to the library.

I’m supposed to back up the school; I’m supposed to coerce him to read his prayer; I’m supposed to use my magic powers to make him be less difficult.

This was a seminal moment for me as a mother. There are so many more like this but this one stands out for so many reasons.

Your Story Belongs to You. Always.

This story (this prayer) belongs to my son. Again and again I notice that we expect our children to write and then hand over their private writing. This violates a fundamental trust and sets us up for not feeling like we own our narrative, that we control our narrative.

I learned this first at the UC Berkeley extension Bay Area Writers Project, back in 1991. We control what we share and with whom. And when. We don’t share everything we write. When we share what we write, we edit it so that it is appropriate for our audience.


You Control Your Story

Later, learning Japanese and teaching English in Japan, I learned about keigo (polite language) and the different levels of language in Japanese. Of course, this is an important part of Japanese culture. But what struck me is that we of course have similar levels of language in English.

Think about something that happened to you recently. Anything with a story arc. Any event. Now think about telling that story to a small child. Think about telling that story to your boss. To your mom. To your closest friend.

You’ll (hopefully) use different language. You’ll make sure to leave out certain parts of the story or really emphasize others, depending on the audience.

You may choose not to tell that story at all to certain people.

Some Stories are Yours Alone

Back to my son and his prayer. He had written a “real” prayer. An actual prayer to be shared with his God only. Hmmm. As an adult, I understood immediately that school children prayers are meant to be cute, meant to be shared, meant to be posted in the hallways with adorable drawings in pastel colors. Sun shining. Hearts. (not real hearts, but valentine hearts.)

Looking through my son’s eyes in that moment, though, I fully and quickly understood that he didn’t see it that way. He had written something for himself. He was very young. He didn’t have a fully fleshed out concept that his writing was not his own. He still believed that he could create and control what he created.

I guess that (and a few other epiphanies) helped firmly shape my belief that we own our story. We choose if we want to share it, when, how and with whom.

I would like to empower you with this idea today. It’s your story. You own it.


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