Sunday, July 19, 2015

What's your story?

We need each other
Reading the news this week a story caught my eye about the practice of solitary confinement in prison. There is a debate around this technique as a form of punishment, and in simplistic terms you could argue that the reason it's seen by some as damaging is that we are hard wired for relationship.

We all need other people in order to survive. As babies we are completely dependent on others to meet our needs. We become more independent as we mature, but then as we enter old age we may find ourselves increasingly reliant on others again. 
"We all need other people in order to survive."
That's not to say that we all need people in the same way. Extroverts may gain energy from being in a large group, whilst for introverts large group situations could be a cause of stress!  And it's likely that we're a blend of both character types anyway - for me there are times when I enjoy the big crowd, the stage, the limelight, and other times when I need to escape into myself and recharge. 

Susan Cain's inspiring TED talk on the power of introverts is well worth a watch on this subject, whether you're introverted or not. She makes an excellent point that we may over value extroverted behaviour in our schools and workplaces, and she goes into more detail in her book Quiet which a friend was recommending to me last night at the pub.

Family is to be cherished
I love the proverb that 'it takes a village to raise a child', particularly for the implicit notion it brings of relationship with a wide variety of people and across the generations. In Ken Robinson's book The Element, he tells a story of a primary school in America that moved some of it's pre-school classes into a nursing home over the road. 

The rooms where the classes were held had glass walls, the doors were open so the residents could hear the babble of the children's lessons, and the residents had to walk past it to get to the canteen. Soon many of the residents started to help read with the pre-schoolers, not only improving the pre-schoolers' literacy well above the state average, but as an added bonus the residents also began to need less medication. 

Relationship with others, especially across the generations, is good for our health! I still find this story very moving, especially when I hear the statistics in the UK about loneliness amongst older people, some of whom can get so isolated that they may go for long periods without meaningful human contact. Sadly solitary confinement doesn't seem to be limited to prisons in our society.
"Relationship with others, especially across the generations, is good for our health!"
As a family, a huge benefit for us has been moving closer to family in the last few years. A highlight and regular fixture in our week is tea together on Saturday afternoons. Round the table the age ranges from 2 to 93, and it's priceless for my children to spend time with their grandparents and great grandparents (I enjoy it very much too, in case that reads like the only reason we do it is for the kids!).

For many years of human history, history itself was passed on by oral tradition, and in my opinion our family stories are still really important to pass on. We need to know where we fit in the bigger story, and family history helps with that. Living memory connects us with the past in a way that textbooks and documentaries can't. This becomes especially poingnent around major world events, where our family stories can make what can seem to be distant events much more personal. My parents have done a great job of recording and researching the family stories, going back generations, and I love the mix of quirkiness and ordinariness in our family tree. 

"We need to know where we fit in the bigger story"
The subject my fellow bloggers and I were set this week is a quote from a film: 'We need relationships because we need a witness to our lives'. For me, knowing and passing on our stories is the 'witness to our lives' that's such a key reason we need relationship.

It's good to share stories around the campfire
We need to hear each other's stories, and we need to pass our stories on. And it's only once you know someone's story that you can really get to know and appreciate them. 

It's good to share stories over the dinner table, or round a campfire, or over a beer.  For extroverts, it's equally important (maybe more important!) to take the time to listen to other people's stories rather than just telling their own (I'm talking to myself here). 

Likewise it's really important for introverts to open up and tell their stories too - often it's the introverts who might have the most profound thing to say anyway (a point Susan Cain makes!).

So now that Summer's arrived and school's out, maybe it's a good opportunity to catch up with family and friends, share a meal and take some time out to listen to each other's stories again. Happy holidays everyone.
"Maybe it's a good opportunity to take some time out to listen to each other's stories again."


Thanks for taking the time to read What's Your Story. If you've enjoyed it please share it with your friends on social media! Why not subscribe to The Potting Shed Podcast on iTunes for the audio version and much more (direct RSS feed is here). Please nominate my podcast for an award during July 2015 - press the big red button here.

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