VIEW: Sharing Personal Stories

Fred Rogers said, “It is much easier to love someone when you know their story.”

I agree. It is also easier for me to understand someone’s actions if I know something about their life story or what they value and why. 

When I was asked to write an online monthly viewpoint for Minnesota Women’s Press that included pieces of my life story, I was hesitant. Writing about my passions of adding the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) and increasing women’s rights was fairly easy. But… what else was I willing to share about my personal life with readers?

Revealing personal history can feel very vulnerable. I am a Minnesotan who grew up talking more about the weather than communicating thoughts or ideas, let alone emotions or values. I was also taught that one should not talk about ourself because we can be judged as “having a big head” or being “full of yourself.”

This message was more strongly directed at females than males at home, and reinforced at school, my earlier days in church, and in the general community. 

Yet, stories can move people to love and understanding. Stories can move people in conversations about polarized issues. 

In 2012, Minnesotans United for All Families fought for marriage equality. The Republican majority in the Minnesota legislature passed a bill for a voter referendum to add an amendment to the Minnesota Constitution defining marriage as only between one man and one woman. Ultimately, a majority of Minnesotans voted “No” to the proposed amendment and became the first state to reject a same-sex marriage ban in the United States. 

The Minnesotans United’s strategy was based on people telling their personal story about love and marriage. It was the first time I was courageous enough to share my personal lesbian story with people I did not know. It was scary and challenging to talk to people about their marriage values and why it mattered to me for Minnesotans to vote no on the proposed marriage ban amendment.

For political issues, this method is often referred to as “deep canvassing.”  Deep canvassing is the simple idea that conversations can change perspectives. It is about having a two-way conversation to share personal stories around an issue or value with the intent to move towards mutual understanding. 
These conversations prove to have longer term impacts than what a quick political ad, message, or door knocking encounter can do.

I also was invited to participate in Fawzia Khan’s “Becoming Visible” art exhibit. She highlighted several ordinary Minnesota women who contribute to “unacknowledged ‘women’s work.’”  Watching and listening to my video of telling my story brought out fear in me. I felt exposed. I could see that many of the women were not comfortable telling their story — becoming visible. The art project was intended to deliberately share women’s invisible stories. Fawzia’s own story as an artist adds to the beauty and connection to her art.

Connecting values with personal stories also includes sharing everyday activities or events. Like many of you, I am doing more activities as the pandemic restrictions are lifting. In March I took a long road trip with an artist friend to Utah. It was freeing to travel miles of open country while trying to minimize potential virus contact. Over hundreds of miles we shared stories of growing up, family, friends and major life changes. We shared the driving, hiked trails, rated hotel accommodations, and ate a lot of snacks in the truck.

Telling personal stories has helped connect people since the beginning of human history. Sharing, listening, and finding common ground can bring people together. So, my suggestion is: Tell your story. Maybe it will add more love and understanding to everyone’s lives.