We all have a backstory. Every one of us. My story shapes me, my decisions, my life.
Other peoples’ stories fascinate me. Hearing about the experiences of someone who is different from me helps me empathize with them as they experience pain, celebrate with them as they experience joy. Experience is a powerful teacher, and one can only experience a fraction of what it means to “be” human. Stories connect us to one another, inform us, make slightly more real the experiences of others. Now more than ever, I think that listening to each other, hearing the stories of people with very different experiences from our own, is important in having more empathy.
Sharing Our Backstories
A few months ago, I was invited to give a talk to the software testing community in NYC. Being relatively active in the local testing and software development community, I decided to give a talk about effective communication based on my personal experiences with Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). Without delving into the details of my backstory, I discussed enough to let people know why I had such extensive knowledge of DBT and its applications.
The talk (found here) was the most nerve wracking of any I have given before or since. Revealing my story to strangers felt very uncomfortable, and I feared personal judgement from professional peers. Despite my discomfort, I could hear laughter of those who had experienced something similar, or see heads shaking in the audience when we had a shared sadness in our pasts (or present).
Following the talk, several audience members spoke with me at length about their own backstories. I did not like that we had shared pain, but I was strengthened to know that we had a shared resolve — the ability to stand in the face of our difficulties and continue on, in spite of our difficulties. Taking a moment to share myself and my story seemed to help people open up. These moments of openness and vulnerability are the moments I find the most endearing in others, because they are the moments to which I can most easily relate.
Now, staring back at 2016, I see what I have been through, but also what is coming. I won’t pretend to feel optimism or joy, nor despair or defeat. Rather, I am open to new conversations and new experiences, as I am still writing my story, and it is writing me.