The Power of a Story

I finished another successful training. I’m very fortunate to work doing what I love, working with people to change our mindset about poverty. I came home to my family after a long day that included a poverty simulation with community leaders. Most evenings, I debrief with my husband and he asks the typical question “How was your day?”

However, tonight was a little different. My teenage son, inquired about the details of my workday. “Mom what did you teach people today?”

“We talked about poverty,” I responded.

“What did you tell people about poverty?” he said.

I said, “Well… I actually shared a story about a young woman, whom I know, who was grocery shopping for her family. She had a bunch of groceries piled up in her cart. Once she got to the checkout, she discovered her food stamp card wouldn’t work. The cashier remarked about how careless the woman was to not have a working card. So, she was forced to leave the grocery store without buying any of the food. In the training, we had a dialogue about this woman’s grocery experience. We discussed how she possibly felt; how she may have felt embarrassed and felt defeated in the moment. But the important part of the story was what she did after being in the checkout lane. She contacted an ally and she talked about the shame and frustration of her experience. The ally helped her to process how she was treated and gave her encouragement to trudge ahead.”

My son listened as I told the story, much like the participants listened today at the training—waiting for me to share what was going to happen next, waiting for a happy ending to the story. Although, there was no way to tie this up into a happy story.

My son said, “Wow mom, that is really sad but good at the same time.” Then he left and went into his bedroom, back to his life of video games and FaceTime with his friends, like most teenagers.

An hour later, he came back to me and said, “Mom, you know Tom’s Market? Do you think you could do a training there for their cashiers? Maybe it would be good for them to learn about poverty. Then women, like your friend, wouldn’t get treated that way when they have trouble with their food card.”
Overwhelmed with feelings of gratitude, that my 16-year-old ‘gets it’ and he is ready to tackle some of the systemic barriers, that exist for those in poverty… I take a gulp and hold back the tears and I said, “Yes, son I think that’s a great idea.”

Having three children, we tell a lot of stories in my house; from reading at bedtime, stories at the dinner table, and just the typical “remember when” moments that many families share. But something came to me tonight from the story; the one I’ve told a hundred times.  Telling stories are an effective and important way, to open people’s eyes and hearts. Stories can ignite change agents. Stories can help people experience another person’s reality.

Stories can give a glimpse into poverty.

I am reminded that sharing these stories can give voice to the voiceless. These stories share an experience that needs to be shared. I’m reminded that stories help the complex issue of poverty become human and personal. I’m reminded how important it is to tell these stories to others.

Stories give connection.

Change can happen.  Even if it is one small grocery market at a time.

What stories are you telling in your community?

Who is listening?

How are the stories you tell creating change?

by Heather Cunningham, to learn more about Heather’s work please visit thinktank-inc.org

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