Welcome back to A Mentorship Minute – a monthly blog from FNHDA!
Spring is in the air, and you know what that means! Caucus season! My favourite part of caucus is listening to and learning from the stories people share. No matter what topic is being discussed, Health Directors can speak to how a particular policy, issue, program or funding stream looks on the ground, in real life, in their communities. These stories can be funny, sad, tragic, inspirational, or hopeful – and they are always a beautiful reminder of why we do this work. Stories are a universal part of the human experience. From our earliest ancestors teaching their children how to hunt or gather, to sharing how our days went with loved ones around the dinner table, stories are the threads that form the fabric of our lives.
Sharing our stories is a powerful form of mentorship. Whether we call it a community best practice, lived experience, or frame it as an anecdote, stories are relatable. When an audience can relate to the person telling the story, they are more open to new ideas, perspectives and solutions. When we listen to someone’s story, we give ourselves permission to see the world from a perspective that is different from our own, and to understand that our experience of the world is not the same for everyone. Stories can open the door to a profound shift in how we relate to each other, and in how we show up for others in our work and lives.
In 2020 a Lot of stuff was going on, and one of the Big Things was hundreds of thousands of people in the streets supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. As I was educating myself more about the systemic and historical roots of oppression, I came across a video by Brené Brown posted in 2017. This video is amazing for a whole bunch of reasons, but what I want to highlight is her description of how perspective builds empathy, and how stories help to get us there. She talks about how each of us has a unique lens through which we view the world, built from our individual circumstances and experiences. Then she says this:
The whiter, more Judeo-Christian, straighter, middle-class, educated we are, the more likely it is that we were told that how we see the world – is actually the world.
It isn’t, of course. “My world” is not “the world”, and if I operate from the perspective that it is, then I risk doing harm by invalidating points of view that are different from mine. As a white, middle-ish class, educated, cis-gender woman, this resonates with me. I work hard to understand my privilege, and to make sure it doesn’t get in the way of me being the best person I can be, but I need to be conscious that there is a “my world is the only world” code wired into my brain somewhere and commit to keeping it from activating.
Brené Brown goes on to ask, if empathy requires us to take the perspective of others, how do we do that if we can only see the world through our own specific lens?
The answer is: You believe people’s stories. You believe people’s experiences as they tell them to you. You understand that the world that they see through their lens is as real and honest and truthful as the world that we see through our lens.
I love this so much because her words remind me that someone sharing their story is a Gift – it is an honour to be given the opportunity to glimpse the world as someone else experiences it, and the most profound way to do this is to Listen to their story. To listen with an open mind and an open heart and to know that they are sharing Their Truth. Not all stories are easy or comfortable to hear, and sometimes they are told with bitterness or anger – this does not make them less true.
When we have the courage to tell our story, when we gift others with a view of our world and our truth, we also give the listener permission to apply the lessons we learned to themselves, and adapt these lessons to fit their own circumstances. Sharing and learning walk side by side, the storyteller and the listener are part of one whole – after all, what is a story with no one to tell it to?
I will end with the words of master storyteller Thomas King, who says at the conclusion of the fourth of his The Truth About Stories Massey Lecture series:
Of course, you don’t have to pay attention to any of these stories……. But help yourself to one if you like….. It’s yours. Do with it what you will. Cry over it. Get angry. Forget it. But don’t say in the years to come that you would have lived your life differently if only you had heard this story. You’ve heard it now
Thank you all for listening. Keep telling your stories, for they really do make the world go round!
See you next month for another Mentorship Minute!
As a former Health Director and current FNHDA Senior Specialist, my role is to provide support to Health Directors – whether you have a question about navigating the health governance structure, are looking for resources, have a Wise Practice or training idea you want to share, or pretty much anything at all – please drop me a line – I look forward to connecting with you!!