Posts Tagged ‘communication theory’

Tell Me A Story

I’ve noticed the word “I” in a lot of my blog posts. Maybe it’s because I’m super self-absorbed. I’m not going to attempt to deny that because it may then appear that I doth protest too much, but I think at least part of the reason is that I like stories – mine and other people’s.

I’ve always been fascinated by stories, always hungry for new ones. I think that’s why I am a voracious reader and, at times, TV watcher. (That’s another blog trend I’ve noticed.)

I used to skim through my parents’ religious self-helpy books looking for anecdotes used to illustrate a point. I didn’t care about the points the author was trying to make. I just cared about the stories.

I recently saw a comment online where the poster said he or she didn’t really care about personal stories and didn’t especially relate to that form of communication. That mentality almost doesn’t compute for me. I’m closer to being the opposite. If it’s not shared in the form of a narrative, I don’t care. That’s hyperbole but more true than not.

I want to hear about the time someone kissed you and their lip got stuck in your braces or when you talked your little brother into crawling into an underground pipe to rescue a kitten. 

Why do stories have such a powerful draw for me? I’m not sure.

When I was studying communication in college, I was introduced to theorist Walter Fisher, who put forth the argument that human communication is based on a narrative paradigm. We make judgments, he said, based on stories – based on whether we believe something has coherence and fidelity. We “experience and comprehend life as a series of ongoing narratives, as conflicts, characters, beginnings, middles, and ends.” *

(No, I can’t just quote communication theorists off the top of my head. I had to pull my intro to communication textbook off my shelf.)

I think his theory, like many of those I encountered as a communication major, provides an interesting way of interpreting human interaction. While it, like the others, is certainly not the only way of looking at things, it’s one that resonates with me. As I’ve experienced changes in life, beliefs, social circles, subcultures, I’ve often found myself trying to adapt to a new and unfamiliar narrative. At times I feel like I need to hear other people’s personal experiences before I can wrap my head around a new way of thinking. Realizing that everyone’s paradigm is not my own paradigm requires an understanding of those fresh “conflicts, characters, beginnings, middles, and ends” before I can feel comfortable with my new perspective.

I’m a big proponent of giving people a voice. I think their stories need to be told so that greater understanding can be gained. Everyone doesn’t think, feel or believe the same things. Some things are factual, and others are not factual, and the difference needs to be respected. The scientific method FTW! But human experience is complicated and nuanced, and I think there’s great value to letting people express those complications and nuances.

I know I’m a more compassionate person because I’ve heard the stories of people whose experiences were radically different from mine but for whom I felt a new empathy that allowed me to look beyond my own judgment, my own stark black and white, and identify with them.

I think that’s one thing I enjoy about my job at a newspaper. I retell people’s stories for them. While some of them aren’t the most compelling in the world, I know that they are narratives that make a difference for the people in the community. I know some of my stories end up clipped out and posted on refrigerators or workplace walls. When I’m not there anymore, my stories will be in newspapers turning yellow, saved for posterity, encapsulating a period in time and its conflicts, characters, beginnings, middles and ends.

*The quote is from Walter Fisher’s “Human Communication as Narration: Toward a Philosophy of Reason, Value, and Action.”

P.S. This is the final entry for my post every day for a month attempt. I was successful!  (Unless you count that one time that I thought I had published my post but really it was saved as a draft. It’s OK though because you can change the post date, and so I just made it look like I had posted it on that day. So that’s totally legit.) I don’t plan to continue posting every day, but I will keep writing for the blog, so stick around.


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