When you were little, there were certain stories you loved to hear, and if you were fortunate, you were able to pester parents to read your favorite book over and over again. Maybe you couldn’t go to sleep unless you heard the usual bedtime story.
As you grew up, you learned to recognize the stories in your own experiences. When it came time to recall those experiences, you were more interested in the story of what happened than in the accurate recollection of details – our memories, after all, are composed of the stories of what happened, which may or may not be what actually happened. When it came time to tell those stories, you wanted to hear them from the person who is best at telling stories, not necessarily the person with the most accurate memory. In fact, some of the memories of your little kid-ness aren’t memories of the experience; they are memories of the stories your parents and relatives have told about your experience, and those stories are so much a part of you that you can’t tell the difference.
So what distinguishes the story of an experience from the memory of an experience? The simple answer: CHOICES*.
When you go to tell someone about an experience, you don’t give them a list of every single thing that happened; you filter out the less important details, or the ones that might be a little embarrassing, or the ones that you don’t think your listener would understand. You might embellish certain details because, while they may not be true to the experience, those embellishments are essential to your purpose for telling the story. And these decisions, these choices, aren’t the product of deliberation, of weighing the pros and cons for leaving one detail in and taking another detail out. You are more often unaware of the choices you made when you told a story.
That sense of the storyteller’s choices is going to be the foundation of everything we do this year, and that’s why we are beginning our year with a unit I call The Power of Story. In the first couple of weeks of our class, you are going to:
- Read a couple of stories and discuss moments where you can recognize the choices the authors made
- Recall and retell some of the stories of your own life
- Read and watch experts talk about the different ways that story affects our understanding of who we are
I’d give you more details, but I’ve never started the year this way, so I’m going to be figuring out some things as we go.
*Please note that I have used every typographical tool available to emphasize the importance of this word relative to all the other words. That should tell you something about CHOICES.