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My son, Porter, loves to visit a restaurant near our home named “Porter’s Place.” Recently, our family was eating there around a big round table when one of the children said, “Dad, tell us that story from your childhood about the fire you shouldn’t have started in the field near your home.”
At this point, Dad told this rather wild childhood adventure story. During the story the waiter came to check on us and we begged him to tell us a story from his childhood. He told us of an embarrassing time when he accidentally injured his neighbor’s dog. It was so funny that we all laughed.
These stories started a night of tales from the past. I told a story from my childhood about when I accidentally poured buttermilk on my breakfast cereal. Then my husband told about the time he and his friends went pool hopping late at night and later regretted it because they got caught by the police. The stories just kept on coming and the laughs seemed to be never ending.
Everyone Wants to Live a Life Filled With Good Stories
“I don’t have any good stories to tell about my childhood,” said Londyn, who then thoughtfully added, “I always want to tell a good story, but I’m pretty sure my life is boring.”
“Of course you have stories,” we all told her. “You just aren’t remembering them right now.”
“No, really,” she assured us. “I can’t think of anything I’ve done that’s embarrassing or naughty.”
We explained to Londyn that she didn’t have to do something bad or embarrassing to be interesting to other people. She seemed to understand. After a short time we did recall some rather funny stories from her past — even though she wasn’t breaking any rules in her stories.
I couldn’t help but realize that Londyn’s concern about not having an interesting story to tell was bringing up a very real human desire: to be interesting or amusing to other people. When one person tells a good story — complete with cause and effect, a lesson learned, or a mighty change of heart — the person becomes more valuable to everyone around them. Stories unite us.
Long ago one of my children said to me, “Mom, tell us stories about your life. Those are the best stories you tell.” This simple request taught me something that I had been neglecting, something that was vital to the identity and character development of my children, as well as the strength of our family group. It’s personal stories.
Here Are 10 Ways to Create Stories That Unite
- Tell stories about yourself, occasionally including faults or mistakes you made, but overcame. True, first-person stories are always the best.
- Tell true stories that show cause and effect. A good story shows how good choices have positive consequences and bad choices have negative consequences.
- Tell stories that inspire people to live better. A good story helps people examine themselves and strive to improve in some way. Since we are all on the journey of life and learning each day, the majority of our stories show our progressing toward what is most meaningful in life, such as faith, family, and self-mastery.
- Tell stories that help people understand you and the way you see life. The more your audience understands you, the more they won’t judge you. Instead, they’ll value you. Valuing the storyteller unites the whole group.
- Tell stories of everyday things that everyone can relate to, not just the few amazing, prominent events from your life. We may not think that spilling a bag of chocolate chips into the flour container or washing a red shirt with the whites is very interesting, but children do. They learn how everyday living teaches lessons for life. For instance, the red shirt story teaches us that to stay pure and clean, it’s best to pay attention to what needs to be removed from our lives.
- Tell stories that share your feelings about relationships and truths you’ve learned. Stories teach identity. When a person shares a story, the listener sees through the lens of the storyteller. They understand who the storyteller is; her identity. And then the listener becomes surer of who he or she is as well. Identity development is a key to happiness in life. Families have historically instilled solid identity by telling family stories and stories of God. These stories keep society secure.
- Be causal. Don’t be preachy. The best stories aren’t told to obviously change someone’s mind, but are told in a casual, relatable way.
- Make time to tell stories. Stories don’t happen if we get too busy or overburdened. Some people forget to tell stories of their lives, or even of their days, because they are running so quickly to their next event. Slow down enough to make a memory and fulfill a need to bond to you through story.
- Don’t tell a story to someone who doesn’t want to hear. Just like we shouldn’t sing to people who don’t want to listen, we also shouldn’t share a story if the timing is bad or someone simply doesn’t want to hear it. In that case, save it for another time. Get to a place of unity first, then tell your story.
- Keep a daily journal so that you can find stories from you past to share later. A journal is your collection of each day’s stories. As you write daily about the lessons learned, feelings experienced and other activities in your life, you’ll end up with a vast collection of precious stories to someday share with families and friends. Without a daily journal, your memory will only preserve a limited number of stories.
To increase unity, increase the stories you tell. As your family starts sharing stories, they’ll start smiling, hugging and enjoying family time more. Enjoyment of family life is a rare gem in a time full of selfishness and insecurity.