The Superpowers of Storytelling

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By Julie Deulen

Below are a few very short stories. As you read them, reflect on the mental and physiological reactions inside of you. Observe your thoughts and feelings.

“I was in a taxi on my way to work in Chicago when my blood glucose level suddenly dropped and I passed out. The taxi driver used all the tricks of his trade to get me to the hospital as quickly as possible. Apparently, he cut through a small park and drove over a median to get me there before it was too late. I know this because after I woke up, my nurse told me that my taxi driver “saved my life” and “physically carried me into the emergency room waiting area,” followed by a police officer who was after him for the said traffic violations. The nurse said, “After the taxi driver explained himself, the police officer shook his hand and left.”

“Losing my infant son was the worst pain I have ever felt. But the feeling I had when I received a phone call from the doctor telling me my baby’s organs saved two other baby’s lives was strange and wonderful like no other feeling in the world.”

“Today, I told my 18 year old grandson that nobody asked me to prom when I was in high school, so I didn’t attend. He showed up at my house this evening dressed in a tuxedo and took me as his date to his prom.”

“Today, while I was browsing in a secondhand bookshop, I found a copy of a book that had been stolen from me when I was a kid. I opened it and saw, on the first page, in familiar hand writing, my own name. It had been a gift from my (now late) grandfather. Next to my name my grandfather wrote, “I hope you rediscover this book someday when you’re older, and it makes you think about the important things in life.”

I invited my friends and coworkers to engage in this same challenge, and these were the thoughts and feeling that surfaced when hearing these stories: hope, elation, relief, surprise, powerful, secure, weighty, human, inspired, beautiful, anger, delight, rumination, sadness, profound, grateful, wise, meaningful. Marvel with me at the superpowers of storytelling. All these thoughts, ideas, and feelings were created through a powerful cause and effect chain that begins with a story and travels with gusto throughout the human brain.

There are few things as influential to the human brain as a story. While we can receive and decode information in many ways, when we hear a story, our brain activates in truly dynamic ways. Consider looking at bullet points on a powerpoint. When we take in this kind of information, our brain activates its centers of language cognition. We then take these words and digest them into something we can derive meaning from. Then we are done, that’s it. The brain is at rest and waits for something more interesting.

Compare this to hearing a story. The same language processing centers come alive, decoding information. But in addition, other regions of our brain activate and interpret the words as if we are experiencing the events of the story in reality.  If a character in the story sprints through the grass in his bare feet, the part of the brain that stimulates the body’s movements, the motor cortex, is activated. If someone tells us a story about delicious food, our sensory cortex activates, just as it does when we actually eat tasty food. This even applies to when the story describes sensory information within metaphors such as, “her voice was refreshing and smooth, like a cold bowl of ice cream.” Our sensory cortex activates and our brain is stimulated as if we are eating a cold bowl of ice cream. The implications for influence, empathy, are education are enormous.

Storytelling allows you to transmit your lived experience into the psyche of another person, and they too will feel the same tactile and emotional responses. Their brains will work towards learning the same lessons, processing, and changing in ways that mirror your experience and outlook. In fact, according to Uri Hasson, researcher from Princeton University, a story is the only way to activate the brain so that the listener turns the information into their own idea and experience. Add to this the fact that hearing a story releases the chemical dopamine in the brain that helps with memory and accuracy, and storytelling takes on some serious superpowers for influence and engagement.

The amazing power of storytelling is that the brain’s response does not differentiate between hearing a story and actually engaging in the very same reality. And yet it goes beyond this. A story can prompt the brain to rework itself, creating significant internal change. When we share a story that has helped shape our thinking or way of life, we can spread the same effect to the people receiving the story. Researchers at Princeton University have shown that the brain of a storyteller will literally sync to the brain of the story receiver. When the storyteller in their study had activity in her insula, an emotional brain region, the listeners did too. When her frontal cortex lit up, the frontal cortex of the listeners followed suite. In this way, the storyteller has great power to determine the majority of brain activity inside the listener.

If you want to truly influence thoughts and ideas, if you want to undoubtedly teach and motivate people, then embrace the powers of storytelling. The human brain is primed and waiting to sync to your message and transform the inner world of your audience. With all these superpowers, storytelling is the best way to influence change in the outer world.


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Sources

 

https://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/18/opinion/sunday/the-neuroscience-of-your-brain-on-fiction.html?pagewanted=all

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2922522/

https://blog.bufferapp.com/science-of-storytelling-why-telling-a-story-is-the-most-powerful-way-to-activate-our-brains

https://www.onespot.com/blog/infographic-the-science-of-storytelling

http://www.indietech.com.au/indiesights-blog/why-our-brains-love-stories-and-why-storytelling-is-so-important-in-marketing

 

 

 

Flipping the Script on Immigration

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By Amelia Fox

Throughout the course of the 2016 election and more recently in debates surrounding the termination of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), we have been consistently exposed to negative and toxic rhetoric about immigrants and refugees. This has led to, or exposed, widespread distrust among friends, family, coworkers, and community members. Yet, the grimmer reality surfaces when such distrust manifests in the form of harassment, violence, and discrimination.

We hear and read the same scripts over and over: Immigrants are stealing our jobs, draining our resources, and contributing to rampant crime and violence. These narratives haven’t just emerged organically but rather as political tools in order to drown out the stories that paint a true picture of why people immigrate to the US and what life looks like once arriving.

In reality, immigrant populations contribute far more to our economy than what is typically understood. According to research conducted by the National Research Council in 2007, immigrant participation in the labor force contributed to an estimated annual wage gain of $30 billion dollars for US workers. Another study conducted in Arizona concluded that the state’s immigrants contribute $2.4 billion in tax revenue per year. This goes far beyond compensating for the $1.4 billion in resources that immigrants utilize for education, healthcare, and law enforcement. As for the narrative pegging violent crime on immigrants, the American Immigration Council determined that among young men, immigrants have the lowest incarceration rates, regardless of educational attainment or ethnicity.

If more truth was to be brought to the forefront of these conversations, my guess is that we’d see a lot less hostility. This yearning for truth inspired Stories Without Borders to produce Beyond the Wall, a 2017 film that explores the current political climate through the eyes of immigrants and refugees from around the world, as well as the community actors that stand by them. If you feel this same craving for the truth, you can access the film and more information about Beyond the Wall here. SWB is expanding Beyond the Wall throughout 2017 and 2018 and continues to host screenings that, coupled with panels of experts and directly impacted people, seek to engage audiences in discussion that encourages community empowerment through empathy and truthtelling.

We are, however, not the only storytellers adding to this dialogue. There are others, many of them immigrants themselves, who lead with their voices to share the immigrant and refugee experiences here in the US. If you’re interested in a better understanding of what motivates people to come to the US, what it means for people to integrate into new communities, and how family relationships in home countries are impacted, I suggest checking out some of these inspiring resources!

Videos

  • Crossing Arizona discusses the topic of border control from the perspective of a range of community members -- from disgruntled ranchers, to dedicated migrants, to local politicians. This moving documentary shows the true complexities involved in the immigration debate when policy continues to fails time and time again. You can rent or purchase Crossing Arizona here.
  • In Which Way Home, journalist Sonia Nazario follows a group of young boys as they make the life-threatening and perilous trek from various countries within Latin America to the US in search for jobs, their family, and a safer, more promising life. Which Way Home can be rented or purchased here.

Books

  • Americanah, written by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, portrays the story of a young Nigerian woman, Ifemelu, who emigrates to the United States to attend college. The book addresses the struggle involved in defining and defending one’s identity and race, as well as explores the beauties and challenges of both the United States and Nigeria.

  • In her memoir, The Distance Between Us, Reyna Grande narrates a compelling and heart-wrenching story of the effects of mass emigration to the US on Mexican communities from the perspective of children left behind.  

Food for Thought

  • Enrique’s Journey: Through a series of 6 short, intimate pieces, Sonia Nazario describes the struggles experienced by 17-year-old Enrique as he escapes Honduras in search from his mother’s love in the US.

  • Sonia Nazario’s TedTalk: In this 18-minute TedTalk, Pulitzer Prize winner Sonia Nazario discusses why past efforts at curbing illegal immigration have failed, and what local grassroot organizations throughout Latin America are doing to keep their communities safe from gang violence.

  • Immigration Myths and Facts: Check out the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Immigration Myths and Facts sheet to challenge your own misconceptions about immigration

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https://www.aclu.org/files/pdfs/immigrants/myths_facts_jan2008.pdf

https://www.uschamber.com/sites/default/files/documents/files/022851_mythsfacts_2016_report_final.pdf

2017: That's a Wrap!

 Stories Without Borders Team on set with Congressman Polis for Beyond the Wall II

Stories Without Borders Team on set with Congressman Polis for Beyond the Wall II

2017 was a year of strong stories, to say the least, and Stories Without Borders is proud of the contributions we developed and shared this year with the support of our funders, partners, and importantly, a bold and growing community of storytellers who generously share their experiences on film, in person, and at events.

 

What did we learn this year? So many things, but the issue that has come to the forefront of all of our projects this year is the importance of mental health: Normalizing it, increasing access to care, and embracing how necessary our own stories are in creating a society and a culture empathy, knowledge and understanding.

Early in the year we worked with Consumer Research Associates to conduct a series of focus groups in Colorado to discern prevailing attitudes about mental health, from people who have accessed care, and the general population.

We learned so much from the research (available for free, by request: info@storieswihtoutborders.org).

The biggest takeaway for me was this:

People with lived experience (accessing mental health care) were seen as the most trusted at the time of outreach.

How do we know who has lived experience? The simplest answer is by sharing our own.

This information is driving Sharing Stories, funded by The Colorado Health Foundation; and has informed our work on the Lifelines Film Series and our filmmaking for Beyond the Wall, I and II (coming Spring 2018!)

Mental health care has been an important part of my adult life, and I share my experiences with anyone with ears to listen. Why? Because the average time between someone experiencing mental health disturbance, from anxiety and depression to suicidal ideation, and the time they reach out for help, is currently ten years.

Ten. Years.

This is our current reality. And we have the power to change it, to alleviate unnecessary pain and suffering, by simply sharing our our stories.

My pursuit of mental health and balance has enhanced my quality of life, my parenting, and my understanding of myself. As a result, people know they can reach out to me when they are suffering and don’t know the way forward. And they frequently do! I am humbled and honored by this. And so I will continue to share.

Through our work at Stories Without Borders, I’ve heard similar recollections echoed over and over again from the courageous people we have worked with in Colorado: Moms, children, students, professionals, immigrants, comedians, refugees, firefighters, police, 911 operators, chaplains… the list goes on and on.

This year alone we have gathered testimonies from more than thirty brave first responders who have shared their experiences with mental health across the state.

Why do they do this?

Because more firefighters and police officers die each year from suicide than any other line of duty death.

They share, we share, so that others may not suffer. I’m tearing up as I write this because, over and over this year, the deep urge to help one another at the risk of being vulnerable, is the best of our humanity.

Storytelling is not direct service, per se; instead it is an art we all possess that has the potential to impact every single social issue impacting our society today.

As we honor the humanity in ourselves by sharing our experiences, we humanize others, remind each other that we are never, ever alone in our individual experiences, and give others the courage to care for themselves.

Being an ethical outlet for this desire, and allowing “everyday” stories to take flight and reach more people, drives all of our work at Stories Without Borders.

Looking forward

In 2018, we’re gearing up to host a series of live events with a network of community partners to share films we’ve produced this year to further engage communities across the country in conversations about mental health, trauma, tragedy and redemption. We look forward to working with you to “plug-in” the work at live events, to use films and true stories to present new solutions to existing realities, and bring us all closer together.

You. Your unique experiences, no matter how tragic or empowering, are the gift that truly keeps giving… Sharing them creates a ripple effect. Your worst moment may be the one thing that allows another to reach out from theirs, to save lives, and create lasting change.

I am very, very grateful to have been a witness this year to so many powerful experiences, including my own. SWB looks forward to continuing to produce powerful stories that work for communities in 2018, through live events, new productions, and more, always guided by our mission: To tell underreported stories and empower new storytellers.

Please consider contributing to our work!

See what your donation can do, here.

With gratitude,

Jessica Schneider

Executive Director

 

If you or a loved one are experiencing hopelessness, reach out. In Colorado, you can call Colorado Crisis Services, or visit them online to chat. They’re good, I recommend it.

A Year in Review: Lifelines

Greetings!

Happy Holiday season to you all! At Stories Without Borders, we thank you all for your incredible support in 2017. And what a year it was!

We're very excited to share our work with you! From today through the beginning of 2018 we'll give you a weekly peek into the stories we were able to capture this year.

Lifelines is a documentary in partnership with Status: Code 4, Inc. that features the real stories of our First Responders and the issues they face daily, including many aspects of the the culture that people don't often know about. The stories from police, firefighters and EMS will explore and uncover issues of mental health, stigma, relationships, and more.

Through their personal stories, we were introduced to the brave first responders in Colorado and learned how they support each other after experiencing trauma. We appreciate their courage to share their stories to help others. We always walked away from a day of filming learning something new and excited to share what we just heard. In September, we released the trailer on Facebook and since then, it’s been viewed over 170K times organically. Click the image below to view the Lifelines Trailer.

Enjoy!

More updates about Lifelines distribution and videos in 2018.

 Lifelines trailer 

Lifelines trailer