The New York Times article last week, The Stories That Bind Us, piquéd my interest as I strongly relate to Muriel Rukeyser’s observation: “The Universe is made of stories, not of atoms.”
After reading this article it occurred to me that there were many parallel benefits between the family stories discussed in the article and with the stories we write in our journals about ourselves, friends, families, and projects. The NYT article is my jumping off point for this month’s newsletter article.
You’ll also find a LifeJournal tip below and, of course, some end quotes.
Here’s some exciting new of recent and upcoming IAJW (International Association for Journal Writing) telechats with personal writing luminaries:
Wishing you a re-birthing of your creativity as spring begins here in the northern hemisphere.
To your writing,
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Stories that Bind Us Redux
By Ruth Folit
The NY Times article on 3/15/2013, Stories that Bind Us by Bruce Feiler, intrigued me. The gist of the article is that children who know more about their families were more resilient and more emotionally healthy than kids who knew less about their families. To me, this isn’t at first glance an intuitive cause and effect relationship.
What the researchers meant by children knowing more about their families is simply that they could answer many of 20 questions such as:
“Do you know where your grandparents grew up? Do you know where your mom and dad went to high school? Do you know where your parents met? Do you know an illness or something really terrible that happened in your family? Do you know the story of your birth?”
The article continues, “The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned. The ‘Do You Know?’ scale turned out to be the best single predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness.”
Additionally, Feiler said, “the ones who knew more about their families proved to be more resilient, meaning they could moderate the effects of stress.”
These conclusions clearly support the concept of how powerful stories can be. When people know their background and history they feel they are part of a bigger picture. I was surprised how important knowing these basic stories are. (Although I do wonder whether the fact that kids knowing the answers to these questions is more indicative of how strong, high functioning families tell stories about their
The article also referenced the concept of a family narrative, that is, a story that unified the family. For example, my family left Eastern Europe in the late 1800s after the Pogroms forced them from their homes. Even though all four of my grandparents arrived in the US under difficult conditions as children, they managed to succeed in creating close families and building businesses in New York City and New England.
Write a short narrative of your family’s story. Even writing a couple of sentences may alter your sense of your place in the world today.
The Times article continues by moving into the realm of more generic groups, such as businesses, towns, even countries. Management experts recommend that it’s important for a group to capture/create their core identity to be successful.
I think we could agree that not only groups (families, businesses, and municipalities) benefit from understanding and articulating their core identities, but individuals who understand and articulate their own core identities profit as well.
In a sense each one of us is a mix of various entities with different and sometimes conflicting viewpoints. We are not just one static, monolithic perspective that knits together into one logical, rational self. We are multifaceted, with many inner “committee members” who sometimes argue among themselves. The trick is for each of us to develop and recognize our own core identities–which inner committee member to listen to under what circumstances.
We discover and refine our own narratives as our lives unfold. It’s important to know not just how our parents met, but to learn how we best connect with interior authentic self. To know how we react when we are in crisis or surprised or delighted. And being conscious of how we need to refine our life when we realize that things aren’t going the way we want. Writing in a journal is a practice that keeps that kind of dialog alive so we stay in touch with our own core identities (which may shift with time), with our personal narrative as we shape it and it shapes us.
The more we can answer our own “Do You Know?” questions, I believe the more resilient, successful, and emotional healthy we can be as individuals within larger groups.
LifeJournal Tip: How to Count my Entries?
You can count your entries easily. Click the Explorer button on the LifeJournal toolbar and the Journal Explorer opens at the bottom of your screen. In the bottom left corner is a Show All button. Click that and the number of entries that you have written are at the bottom of the right pane of the Explorer (under the Date column.).
“Narrative becomes the way you make sense of chaos. That’s how you focus the world.”— Dennis Lehane
“It’s like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story.” — Patrick Rothfuss
“The world isn’t just the way it is. It is how we understand it, no? And in understanding something, we bring something to it, no? Doesn’t that make life a story?” — Yann Martel
“Stories make us more alive, more human, more courageous, more loving.” — Madeleine L’Engle