Oct 6, 2023 3 min read

Touching the Community Heart Through Story

Photo of Patrice O'Neill and with a lengthy quote. Quote is included in the newsletter text.

We've talked with many leaders and change agents across the country who are working to make their communities more inclusive and equitable. Their work has come to life in many different and beautiful ways. While each community’s actions are unique to its situation, vision, and gifts, some themes have emerged.

One theme, or area of practice, is what we have come to call GroundWork. GroundWork is about preparing the ground and irrigating the soil of the community with a deep understanding of equity and inclusion while also planting seeds that will germinate and grow as we work in more structured ways to change community policies, practices, and systems.

In last week's newsletter, we shared about GroundWork actions communities are taking in the area of remembrance and healing. We've also observed communities practicing Groundwork through more contemporary and forward-looking storytelling.

Humans are wired for story. Mark Twain is credited with saying, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” Maybe we could say that a good story is a way to discover our truth.

As we saw last week, stories can be used to remember, to heal, and to build an understanding of our shared truth. Stories can also be used for inspiration, motivation and to build or re-build community identity. Lisa Cron reminds us that:

We don’t turn to story to escape reality, we turn to story to navigate reality.

Stories can also be used to build empathy and trust. This rests in how our bodies and our minds respond to stories. Karen Eber, in her TEDx talk, gives us insight into how this happens:

When you listen to a story, your entire brain starts to light up. Each of your lobes will light up as your senses and emotions are engaged. There’s this term neural-coupling, which says as the listener, your brain will light up exactly as mine as the storyteller. It mirrors this activity as if you are experiencing these things. Storytelling gives you this artificial reality.
As you listen to stories, you automatically gain empathy for the storyteller. The more empathy you experience, the more oxytocin is released in your brain. Oxytocin is the feel-good chemical, and the more oxytocin you have, the more trustworthy you actually view the speaker. This is why storytelling is such a critical skill for a leader because the very act of telling a story makes people trust you more.

One of our most listened-to episodes is Not in Our Town - with Patrice O'Neill. Patrice is a filmmaker who uses her gift for film and storytelling to inspire conversation and positive change.

What I found is that stories of hope and stories that show what people can do in their daily lives to make it better for their neighbors, to really reach out to each other, and find a story that tells the story of us, that is positive, that is inclusive, people are longing for that. And that’s the kind of story that we seek out. We know it’s there. It is there all across this country. It’s being overlooked now, in the face of a lot of scary things that people are dealing with a lot of stress and anger and fear. And yet, we know that when these stories about what we can do together are put forward they carry forward and they help give us some guidance and hope about a new narrative that we can tell about our community. – Patrice O'Neill

What are the stories you could tell about your own community?

Who are your local storytellers, your experienced or budding filmmakers? What stories can you surface that can help you discover your truth and that can give you, as Patrice says, guidance and hope about a new narrative that you can tell about your community? Find those stories. Tell them. Create your own videos, then share those stories in your own screenings. Allow those moments to irrigate the ground of your community, to touch and open hearts, and to be part of preparing the soil for what is to come.

Another thing...

You may already know that this week is Banned Book Week (Oct 1-7). Banning books is one way to silence voices and attempt to limit our stories.

I recently discovered a new podcast series from the Brooklyn Public Library, Borrowed and Banned. Borrowed and Banned is a seven-part series where they tell the story of America’s ideological war with its bookshelves by talking with the people most impacted: the students on the frontlines, the librarians and teachers whose livelihoods are endangered when they speak up, and the writers whose books have become political battleground. The trailer and first episode have dropped. Check it out and join me in listening.

You can probably guess that I love libraries. If you've recently joined our newsletter or would like to revisit it, our 2nd newsletter was all about libraries. You can find it here.

Ame Sanders
Founder of State of Inclusion. A seasoned leader & change-maker, she is focused on positive change within communities.
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