ANSWER: The Story.
Isabel Allende asks this question as she begins her inspiring TED Talk on Tales of Passion. Paraphrasing a Jewish proverb, Allende believes that the stories we tell about ourselves and our lives often reveal as much (or more) about us as hard-evidenced facts.
We are all storytellers who, individually and collectively, lead storied lives. Storied lives that are lived before they are ever told. We understand the past in terms of our stories, just as we seek to understand the future in stories. We take our stories with us as we journey through our lives and our worlds, often finding a hidden presence of our stories in others.
I think there is something strangely satisfying and community-affirming when I find my own story told through the story of another. One such instance recently occurred in my laundry room, a rather serendipitous moment in which a creatively-enlightened man shared this quote with me (by critic Barbara Hardy, 1968): “we dream in narrative, day-dream in narrative, remember, anticipate, hope, despair, believe, doubt, plan, revise, criticize, construct, gossip, learn, hate and love by narrative…”
In Qualitative Research: Challenging the orthodoxies in standard academic discourse(s), Kouritzin, Norman and Piquemal (2009) remind us that we are living in stories all the time and we are continually attending to the stories of others. As such, they seek research that represents story as an important and legitimate research methodology. Rather ironically and in spite of the pervasive prevalence of stories in our lives, the scientific method has weakened confidence in the validity of story, perceiving storytelling to have irrational and inconsequential worth for critically-esteemed academic research. This impoverished belief in the worth of our stories frustrates me.
From my perspective, scientific principles are stories, logically told to a humanity that dangerously assumes science is the absolute truth. Instead of trying to close down understanding, it is important to be always and already questioning, with the hope of opening-up fixed meanings to a multiplicity of possibilities and wide-ranging insights that integrate storied knowing (listening to people and learning from their experiences). For the stuff of our existence includes a totality (not a dichotomy) of atoms, molecules, chemical reactions, relationships, desires, hopes and stories.
How do you know what is truth? Do you agree with Freire’s personal testament: “I know with my entire body, with feelings, with passion, and also with reason” (Pedagogy of the Heart, 1997). I believe that we are transformed by our imaginations more than we are changed by intellectual ideals, political urgings or ethical convictions. Telling of the power of story, Arundhati Roy boldly exclaims:
“Our strategy should be not only to confront the empire but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness, and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different from the ones we’re being brainwashed to believe.”
Your thoughts, your stories?