I have three main occupations (and many “sub-descriptive” occupations as well): First and foremost, I am a follower of Christ. God saved me from the pit of despair when I was just sixteen years old. I am a sales associate. This is my day job that helps pay the bills and where I serve God the most. Finally, I am a blogger and writer. In writing, I have been made very aware of the power of stories—both fictional and real—in order to cultivate learning and more effective interactions with others. Letting people share their stories and telling our own are both vital in cultivating more effective and fulfilling human interactions. Here are some reasons why learning other people’s life stories are so important to effect better communication and interactions with others:
- It eliminates prejudicial attitudes.—A lot of people call racists and other prejudiced people “ignorant,” which I believe is a fitting term for them because they are often judging without knowing their targets’ stories. Although there are elements in some circles of feminism that I disagree with, one thing I like about almost all feminism, especially intersectional feminism, is that they take the time to learn about others’ stories, especially those that are often marginalized and shunned by society. If all of us (me included) would take more time to just get to know others better without prejudging them as “bad” in some way, we would probably discover that they are more like us than we realize. For instance, there were some people at work that at first irritated and angered me. However, as time passed and I got to know them a little bit better, I realized not only did they have a lot of similarities to me, but there was a lot of pain and hurt in their life stories. I know it is difficult (even for me), but as Rachel Scott said in one of her essays, “Code of Ethics” about not judging others and showing compassion, “ [D]id you ever ask them what their goal in life is, what kind of past they came from? Did they experience love; did they experience hurt; did you look into their soul and not just their appearance? Until you know them and not just their “type”, you have no right to shun them. You have not looked for their beauty, their good.” (source: http://rachelschallenge.org/media/media_press_kit/Code_of_ethics.pdf)
- Knowing other people’s life stories cultivates a sense of understanding. –When we learn about other people’s goals, likes and dislikes, what kind of past they came from, and their experiences with love and hurt, we understand them better and are able to interact with them more effectively. For instance, before I knew one of my former pastors well, I did not trust him. In fact, because of his gregarious and upbeat personality, I assumed he “had it all together” and would not be able to relate to my problems and issues, or anyone else’s. However, when he told me part of his life story, I realized I had it all wrong. I realized that he didn’t always have it all together. I realized that because of what he had told me that he would indeed have great compassion of all that I had been through in life. I have realized that when I know a person’s life story better, I begin to understand what motivates their actions and why certain things bother them, or why certain things make them very happy. If we took the time to get to know others better, it would not only eliminate wrong judgments, but we would be more understanding and compassionate of them because we know what they have been through.
- Getting to know other people’s stories adds value to them as a person.—When we listen as people tell us their stories or when we have a genuine interest in another’s life story, we show that we value them. We are, in essence, saying to them, “ I want to know more about you because you are that important to me. I want to understand you better because the stories you will tell are valuable to that purpose. Your story has value, and I can learn much from you.” We are also saying we respect them and what they have to offer when we have a genuine interest in learning about them. For instance, if a good friend of yours confided in you about being abused in his or her past, when you listen to them without offering advice, but instead offer encouragement and just a listening ear, we are telling them, “I care about what happened to you, and you are not alone in this.”
This is why learning about others’ life stories is so important. It would eliminate much of the prejudice we see in this society; we would truly understand others’ motivations better and not just assume they are doing things just to be “mean” or “nasty” or out of selfish desires. It also tells others that they are valuable and what they have to say is important. What are some important life stories you have learned that helped you understand someone or several people better? Please feel free to share in the comments, but please do NOT use people’s real names or specific details of a situation.