The Power of Storytelling

In a recent interview with the NY Times, Michelle Obama and Tracee Ellis Ross (“Black-ish”) talked about the power of storytelling:

Michelle Obama: When I say “go high,” I’m not trying to win the argument. I’m trying to figure out how to understand you and how I can help you understand me.

Tracee Ellis Ross: Knowing other people’s stories is how we connect with them. That’s where the compassion is ignited. If people who don’t know you hate you because of some idea they’ve made up about you, your honest life story is the thing that dismantles the walls between us.

Michelle Obama: (When Barak and I were) sitting at people’s kitchen tables, going to people’s churches and veterans’ community halls…people would start going: “Oh! That’s who you are. I’ve heard all this stuff about you on Fox News, but you’re actually kind of reasonable.”

This idea of storytelling as a key to connection, especially across great cultural and political divides, is central to the Nebraska section of The Snow Clown. Here’s an edited excerpt that would fit comfortably into Obama and Ross’ conversation:

To break the silence (in a classroom in rural Nebraska), I turned to stories, their stories.

A white girl told about going into a video store only to find all the titles were in Spanish. When she went to the counter to ask for movies in English, the family running the store, including a classmate, walked into the back room laughing and talking in Spanish.

I resisted saying anything and just asked for another story, pointedly looking at the other side of the room. A Mexican-American girl, who may have been the classmate in the first girl’s story, told about being called “wetback,” “greaser” and “fucking Mexican whore” as she sat at the counter every day after school, ringing up video rentals and trying to do her homework.

Here’s to the power of storytelling…it’s how we connect with one another! As the year winds down and you connect with family, friends and others in your world, ask people to tell you stories, new ones and old familiar stories. Ask them for details; say “Tell me more.” And then tell some of your own.