Everyday we hear stories and we become a part of others. At GSL there are many stories.
We have the old war stories. Anyone who has been with GSL for a decent length of time will have been through a decent meltdown or incident with a client. We have the tearjerker, the comedy, the warm-and-fuzzy and then there's the thriller - the story that takes unbelievable twists and turns, and you just don't know how it's going to turn out.
Stories have heroes and villains. Of course, our hero is always our client and we have the same villain, it's just that the villain may be personified in different ways. The villain may be the actions of others toward our hero, 'the system', or the exclusion. The villain, for me, always seems to come back to being some form of inequity, and the big one for me is social inequity. As humans we are inherently social beings and need a sense of acceptance and belonging. Being social isn't all about socialising, it is about having strong connections with other people. Usually that's family.
The worst stories for me are the ones about family breakdown when disability touches their lives. I hate these stories! The most common I hear is the turmoil that happens through puberty and adolescence.
The best stories are the hilarious antics like the young man who wanted to go fishing with his brothers. There was no barrier, there wasn't even a second thought. They just fell into the routing of chucking him into the boat and taking him with them. One day I was in stitches as I was told about antics around 'the big catch'. The photo showed it all. There were the two brothers holding 'the big catch', my hero was lying on the bottom of the boat between them (under the fish) with a grin from ear to ear. Who cares if he wasn't sitting up independently in his wheelchair? Not him, he was having the time of his life with his brothers.
When people talk about inclusion, I think family. That's where I see honest, loving, unquestioning relationships. Isn't that what inclusion is - caring about each other? I firmly believe inclusion starts in family and families make up community. If one doesn't have a disability oneself, one most likely has a relative with a disability - a brother, sister, cousin, aunt, uncle, whatever. I think inclusion within family will naturally become a part of inclusion within community life.
A strong part of family life is story telling. There's the grandparent stories, the stories of the bizarre relatives, the long lost relatives, the family adversities and hard times, and the family celebrations. Kids love hearing about themselves as kids, what they got up to and how everyone loves them - naturally, they love to be the center. It's no surprise that there's heaps of research that show family narratives can influence one’s sense of self and individuality. Knowledge of one's family history correlates to higher self-esteem, lower anxiety, stronger familial cohesion, and a better sense of control over one’s life.
The research I'm a little interested in is the effect of sharing a story. Joshua Gowin writes:
A team of scientists at Princeton, led by Uri Hasson, had a woman tell a story while in an MRI scanner ... They then had a group of volunteers listen to the story through headphones while they had their brains scanned ... After the volunteers heard the story, Hasson asked them some questions to see how much of the story they understood.
When the woman spoke ... she had activity in her insula, an emotional brain region, the listeners did too. When her frontal cortex lit up, so did theirs. By simply telling a story, the woman could plant ideas, thoughts and emotions into the listeners' brains.
Hasson also looked at listening comprehension. He found that the more the listeners understood the story, the more their brain activity dovetailed with the speaker's.
When you listen to stories and understand them, you experience the exact same brain pattern as the person telling the story.
In my quest to influence a social movement, I find this interesting. All we need to do is tell stories. Lots of them. We need to be vocal. We need share. Not just stories of injustice or inequity; stories about everything. The whole story. The laughs, the tears and the monotones. Research is telling us we can shape community and social thinking one story at a time.