Who Gets to Tell What Stories?

"We dream in narrative, day-dream in narrative, remember, anticipate, hope, despair, believe, doubt, plan, revise, criticize, construct, gossip, learn, hate, and love by narrative."

-Barbara Hardy

If you have ever attended a Glocal Mission Gathering you may have heard this quote: “We are made of stories.”  We are constantly being told stories that shape how we view the world and treat those who are in it. These stories are part of who we are and we grow in our understanding of them in the sharing of them.

As a fiction writer I have found that whenever I go over to the non-fiction side of writing I am unable to tell my own story without including the stories of my friends, loved ones and even strangers I have met. I struggle being as truthful to their experiences as I am with my own. This often involves sharing what I have written with them and asking for permission to use it, before submitting it to publication. When I write fiction the depth of any characters is determined by the depth of my relationships with the people in my life. Stories are never solitary things but live in relationship with all that is around them. We are characters that step in and out of ongoing narratives that started before we arrived and will continue long after we have parted.

As storytellers it is important that we share and listen to each other’s stories with great care and love, especially when there are unequal relationships involved.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you share stories in both your professional and everyday lives.

Storytelling Challenges*

  • In relationships where power is unequal, our understanding of other people’s stories is shaped by those who have access to the tools of the media – including the press, books, computers, and more.
  • It is important to think about how our representations of others’ stories might be shaped by our own cultural preconceptions.
  • Are we representing other people in our stories as they themselves would see their own lives?

Storytelling Questions to Ask

  • Who gets to tell the story?
  • Who has access to the tools and platforms of storytelling?
  • What stories are not told, and who is expected to be silent?
  • Whose stories are valued and important, and whose stories are ignored?

What else have you found to ring true in your experience?

[*Excerpt from: ELCA Global Mission, Accompaniment Document]


Kristina L. Diaz is Resource Coordinator – Mission Formation of Evangelical Lutheran Church in America based in Chicago.