Can I tell you a story?

We social workers are fond of “I” statements, as a way of communicating our perspectives irrefutably (because only we can truly know our own stories).

Turns out, stories in advocacy work much the same way, by engaging the voice inside our listener’s head (“I’ve always wondered about that” or “Could that really be true?” or “That is so terribly sad”) instead of immediately arousing the listener’s defenses.

That doesn’t mean, certainly, that stories are automatically given tremendous credence; remember, we live in a climate where even verifiable facts are contentious.

But, just as saying “When you fail to do laundry the entire week that I’m gone for work, I feel overburdened and underappreciated” (hypothetically, of course) is a better place to start a conversation than “I cannot believe that you dressed Sam in swim trunks for school rather than run the washing machine!”, so, too, is telling a story a step towards building a common narrative from which we can have a real dialogue, even about difficult issues.

The book, Living Proof, is much more about how to tell your story for advocacy than why, but there’s some of the ‘why’ in there, too. We brought one of the authors in for the Sunflower Foundation Advocacy Fellows speaker series last month, and I had an opportunity to talk with him about his work helping people claim, and successfully tell, their own stories.

But, in practicing what I preach, I think, rather than me trying to convince you that telling a story is a particularly compelling way to break through opposition and deliver a message even to rather hostile ears (something that you probably are at least somewhat inclined to believe already, at least in the abstract), check out these stories from Living Proof–the stories of some of the advocates who have told their stories, to great effect.

Stories that can make even the most ardent multitasker think twice about checking email at stoplights.

Stories that cut through the hateful rhetoric on gay marriage.

Stories that can make people care enough about clean drinking water halfway around the world that they give up birthday presents to pay for it.

What stories do you tell, to convince people to lower their defenses and journey with you towards a more hopeful tomorrow? What stories do you use to get past those who think they already know everything? What stories do you share to combat hopelessness?

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