Over the holidays I had the opportunity to spend an evening with just me and my dad. After dinner we came across an old family photo of my grandfather and my great uncles when they were in their early twenties and thirties. This photo seemed like several other old family photos I had seen before; a posed photo with family members standing side by side in two rows facing the camera. My dad began sharing stories about each family member in the photo. During the conversation I learned so much about relatives I had never had the opportunity to meet. He shared moments of humour, tragedy, loss, and resilience. I developed a great respect for the history in the picture. Listening to my dad’s stories about my great uncles helped me to remember that everyone has a story that is far more reaching than anyone could possibly understand by looking at a single photo. I realized that, prior to listening to my dad, I saw each individual in a single dimension. It is natural to look at someone and create a story. Upon reflection we must be aware that we are at risk of creating a single story that does not reflect the true essence of that person.
I have been thinking deeply about some of the stories we might create at school; for the student that never completes homework, or who regularly disrupts the learning of others; the parent who never signs the planner, does not attend parent-teacher interviews or does not return notes on time; the co-worker who is frequently absent from work or who never seems to engage with other staff. Do we create negative stories for these individuals and is the story we create accurate or complete?
Realistically, it may not be possible to deeply understand everyone’s story. What is possible, in even in the briefest of human encounters, is to recognize that everyone has a story that is more complex than could likely be understand in the context of the workday. We can recognize that the story we do not know may be getting in the way of someone presenting their best self. Creating negative stories for others only builds barriers. Being open to recognizing that we do not know everyone’s story puts us in a position to better understand their story and to re-frame our responses to their actions in ways that may positively impact their story.
Do you have a story that totally changed when you heard additional facts?