Storytelling: A Tool to Remind Us of Our Common Humanity | Not in Our Town

Storytelling: A Tool to Remind Us of Our Common Humanity

Storytelling helps to protect our integrity, validate our existence, and create empathy.

By Jonathan Santos

In my eighth grade English class, everyone kept a journal—even our teacher Mrs. Griffin. Every day, she allotted 10 minutes for her students to write. She always told us, “write to express, not to impress.” There were no prompts. No boundaries. The only rule was to write for the entire 10 minutes without stopping. You stop, you fail. Endure the hand cramps and the writer’s block. Just keep moving your pencil.

At the end of each writing session, we would share what we had written but only if we wanted to. Some entries were funny. Some were ridden with hurt. But they were always raw, honest, and uninhibited. We never gave feedback to what others had written. We didn’t have to. We honored each other’s stories by simply listening. We expressed solidarity through silence.

We learned the art of storytelling is not just for playwrights, novelists, and screenwriters. All of our stories are important and worth sharing. In Mrs. Griffin's class, a mutual respect for each other’s stories translated to a collective respect for learning. We excelled because we supported one another.

Storytelling Preserves Self-Worth

When we share our stories, we foster a greater appreciation of ourselves and of each other. Social psychologist Dr. Claude Steele calls this phenomenon self-affirmation. Self‐affirmation theory asserts that people are motivated to preserve the worth of the self and thereby building the inner strength to navigate through challenging circumstances. Articulating our stories is one way to do this. Storytelling helps to protect our integrity, validate our existence, and create empathy. By sharing our personal narratives with others, we also gain confidence and courage.

Not In Our Town is an organization that uses storytelling as a tool to remind us of our common humanity. Since 1988, NIOT has illuminated stories of people and communities who have stood up to hate, bullying, and bigotry. NIOT’s films capture the lives of everyday people—especially the marginalized—to ensure their voices are not stilled or silenced by injustice. 

Similarly, Storycorps provides a platform for individuals of all backgrounds and beliefs to share their life stories. As one of the largest oral history projects of its kind, Storycorps immortalizes people's stories by archiving thousands of interviews. 

Crafting a Personal Narrative

We can all recount a time where we struggled to find our voice. For me, this happened most recently when I entered my first year of college. Having come from a diverse high school, I frequently felt like my identity was not just validated but appreciated. My story was easy to tell because I was surrounded by people who were willing to listen and understand. But at college, I found it much harder to express myself. My culture, background, and story became diluted in the homogeneity of the university. Uniqueness was suddenly something to hide instead of celebrate. For the first time in my life I felt the discomfort of being what I truly am: a minority.

Eventually I decided to start journaling again. Not because a professor assigned me to do so, but because I find solace in writing. Questions of belonging, purpose, and identity seem easier to negotiate with when written down. Thus, my pen becomes my instrument of self-healing. Through this process, Mrs. Griffin’s voice still rings in my ear—rooting me on and reminding me to express myself without fear of judgment. By recording my day-to-day thoughts, feelings, and experiences, I am gaining a greater understanding of myself. Page by page, I am ensuring that my voice is not silenced as it struggles to tell my story.

Crafting a personal narrative requires deep and thoughtful introspection. Sincere storytelling means we must go on an internal excavation and search the cracks and crevices of the self. We will not always like what we find. Nevertheless, bringing our stories to the surface is necessary to becoming self-empowered and empathetic beings. Though no two stories are alike—though mine surely differs from yours—the art of storytelling is universal. Storytelling unites, humanizes, and heals.

Click here to learn more about identity safety.

Jonathan Santos is a web and communications intern at Not In Our School and studies Sociology at Loyola Marymount University.

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