If you spend much time reading about mental health issues, or child abuse issues, you will eventually make your way to quite a large number of articles that encourage people to speak out and tell their story. We see it with domestic violence, and sexual harassment, discrimination, and many other causes as well. Nothing gets people motivated like a good story, and nothing helps the healing process quite like being able to tell your story, and being heard.
I’ve known many a survivor who has been helped tremendously by being able to share their story, whether it be online or off, in writing. audio/video, or just in conversation. Our story is the very core of who we are, and being able to share it is validation of our own place, and worth, in the world. This is especially true for those of us who have spent years being unable to tell our story, living with unwarranted shame about who we are, and unable to see our own value because our stories, the core of our being, had to be silenced.
That’s why, in my opinion, it can be so very painful to have our individual story diminished, and why it is so offensive when our individual stories are ignored in favor of group stereotypes.
Being part of a group, having our own “tribe”, and belonging somewhere are important. I do not want to diminish that. But, that doesn’t replace the importance of our own individual story. Yes, I’m a child abuse survivor, and I’m part of that “group”. I’m male, I’m straight, I’m white, I’m middle-aged, I live in the Southern US, I’m a techie, I’m a writer and a photographer. I’m a lot of things and I belong to a lot of different groups, but none of them define me. The groups I belong to are all part of the story that makes up this individual.
Yet, when we turn on the news, or look at social media, we see something quite different. Rather than being individuals with our own unique stories, we see constant reminders of what group we belong to, and people reaching conclusions based on stereotypes. Personally, I’ve gotten messages and statements made about myself that aren’t true many times over the years. Mostly I ignore them, but I’m also offended by the people making them, not because what they assume about me is awful, although in some cases it is, but because it’s not me. They are not hearing my story, they are not acknowledging that it has value. That’s an offensive thing to do to anyone.
We do it far too often, and then we wonder why people are offended by it. We take away their individual dignity, turning them in to nothing more than the sum of what groups they belong to, and act shocked when they dare to do the same to us. That’s really the height of hypocrisy right there, isn’t it?
If we want to support other people, no matter what group they belong to or what issues they may be dealing with, a good place to start is to listen to their stories. Most often, you’ll find that story is nothing like you imagined.
Maybe then we can start to heal our differences, and truly understand one another. We can even figure out who we want to share our time with versus those we don’t, based on their individuality instead of what we assume about them.
It won’t solve everything, but at least we can all start to claim the value in our own stories. That can’t hurt.