I’ve been co-facilitating a short course for instructors on how to navigate difficult conversations in their classes and one-on-one with students. This week’s session revolved around the importance of stories, including that everyone has stories to tell about their own lives, stories they tell themselves about them self, and stories they tell themselves about others. 

As part of this I told a story about two women who were talking in the kitchen of one of the women. One woman is telling the other a private story about some troubles she’s having at home. After that woman leaves, the woman whose kitchen they were in notices that her daughter had been listening so she called her in to talk to her, worried that she might share the secrets her friend at told. 

“If Mrs. Gold had left her purse on the table would you take it and give it to someone else?” The mother asked.

“Of course not,” replied the daughter.

“That’s right. Her personal stories are the same. Just like her purse, they belong to her and aren’t ours to give to anyone else.”

We all have our stories from our own lives, stories that may be deeply personal and important to us. They’re ours to tell. They aren’t anyone else’s to tell. If somebody tells you something in confidence it should stay in what Brené Brown refers to as “the vault”. 

But there’s another angle to the statement that our stories are ours to tell. If we want to tell them, nothing should stop us from doing so. If telling our stories might get us help that we need, then we need to try to push past the fears of how others may view us. If telling our stories might help us reclaim them, then we shouldn’t worry about the potential for others to be embarrassed or angry. If we’re honest and they’re our stories.

I said “try” and “shouldn’t” because what I’m saying can be incredibly difficult. Some of those stories may be painful and the reactions of certain people might make that worse.  Choosing who you tell your stories to is important, and only you can and should make those choices. Nobody else should.  Remember, they’re your stories, and only you have the right to tell them, and the right to decide to whom and when.

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