Friday, August 8, 2014

Reflection on the Week: Stories

Our community recently experienced the tragedy of a missing wife and mother.  Sadly, she was found a couple days ago, having evidently experienced the hopelessness that leads to suicide.  Unfortunately, even those close to an individual can't always discern what is going on inside another's head.  I feel awful for her husband, her children, and her family and friends.

One thing that struck me, though, was how news of her story -- her life as a member of the community, and her unexplained disappearance after leaving to run errands one day -- permeated our town, prompting search efforts and communication networks that extended for days.  Folks knew her story.  They identified with her and her family.  And they cared.

Remarks have been made about citizens' willingess to put forth so much effort to find someone who was white, who was relatively privileged (simply by being middle class), who perhaps looked like them, when so many people in our country fail to receive similar treatment.  Perhaps they're too poor; perhaps they're minorities; perhaps their life journeys have taken them down paths with which it's harder for middle-class America to identify.  And I know that -- tragically -- this is true.  It happens.  It's not just.

Even so, I'm intrigued by the possibilities of story.  We who are human are storytellers.  We need narrative to feel compassion, to move down the road toward understanding.  I would argue this is something fundamental in the way we are wired.  Part of the problem with the deficiencies in our society noted in the previous paragraph is our failure to take sufficient time to hear others' stories, to develop the connections narrative brings and start to feel that compassion.  It was easy to hear this local woman's story; it's harder to hear the stories that come from contexts outside our lived experience.

What would happen if we worked harder to learn stories?  We privilege quantifiable information -- refugee numbers, casualty figures, crime statistics, and lines of demarcation in conflicts.  What if we spent more time on refugees' stories?  The details of the lives that are lost?  The life journey traveled, both by the victim and the criminal?  The identities of combatants?  For that matter, what would happen if we knew more about our elected officials -- and our elected officials knew the stories of the people and groups with whom they disagree?  If we recognized people, and not just undifferentiated populations, how might that change things?

I don't want to suggest this is a one-step path to world peace, but I do believe it's worth some thought.  I am weary of vitriol and weary of "othering."  By that logic, I am somebody else's "other."  You are somebody else's "other."  We both know we are so much more than that, don't we?  Let's learn the stories.


troutbirder said...

Very thoughtful. Thank you

Laura Gifford said...

Thanks -- and thank you for reading.