The usefulness of stories

We all define ourselves a certain way, and for better or worse who we think we are is often who we become. I have seen friends become addicts and organizers, crazy hermits and inventors, stick with sports, relationships, ideas, dreams, personality traits long past they had outgrown them or were helpful, or long after everyone else had told them to give them up all because they became a part of how they defined themselves. There is a lot of power in self-definition, it can move you past otherwise insurmountable barriers, in how you think and what you expect of yourself; but self-definition can also be a way to make a habit out of negativity, to hold on to the parts of you that are harmful, it’s a tricky tool and one often best wielded in the presence of good friends. Likewise we often fail to see other people past our immediate perceptions of who they are. It’s how we other others, putting them into a place where we can only see them making decisions for a few motives we prescribe to them. I’m sure none of this is news to you, but I wanted to start by thinking about these things.
I was working in a lab at the UW the summer Michael Brown was shot, I was working with this guy from the Midwest who believed that the protesters were wrong and that the police were justified in their actions. You might expect that someone who held strong opinions about a controversial and polarizing issue would be hard to sway, this was not the case. The PhD student had never really met any people of color growing up, he had never heard the statistics on police shootings of black men in America, I showed him one pew fact sheet and it completely changed his mind within an hour. I think this speaks to the power of stories and statistics. My mom has worked in organizing for a long time and she has a very simple (and successful) approach for talking about controversial issues, open with stories, follow with facts. Stories break down the definitions that we build for others and lets us move them and re-evaluate. Stories build a new normal, an expectation and a path, shaping our conscious and unconscious biases. We are only really effected by the stories we hear, look no further than the increase in public same sex couples and the changing opinions of Americans on same sex couples (http://www.pewforum.org/fact-sheet/changing-attitudes-on-gay-marriage/.) Having access to these stories is important and I feel like that is the sort of thing Nami was talking about in their piece, that transgender stories don’t have a place in the modern academic discourse, or really much of the modern public discussion, web comics give other trans identifying people an opportunity for validation and solidarity in a world not built around them but also allows these stories to be shared in an easily digestible and very human way with the rest of the population who doesn’t have a friend or family member who is trans. This wider readership is really important to wider acceptance, and there is a lot more I would like to say, but it is past midnight and I am tired so hopefully this gives some interesting thoughts.

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