Relativity: The Power of Shared Experience

As I was wandering around the bloggernacle this past week, I was rather disgruntled to find comments that were rudely dismissive and contemptuous of others’ personal experience and belief. It made me irritated, then sad. And then I read Deborah’s Love Bug post, and remembered the reasons why I am invested in female blogs. (Not that there haven’t been numerous other posts on this and other female LDS blogs that I have found particularly inspiring, but this one is the most recent). I think that the shared experience of women can be a powerful way to inspire and encourage.

One of my favorite times of the day is debriefing with my roommate Perky. When I worked nights, I would get home in the morning just as she was getting ready to go to work. As she did her hair and makeup, I’d sit in the comfortably darkened hallway, and we’d catch each other up on recent happenings: frustrations, triumphs, lessons learned, boy-issues, social plans, whatever. We were sharing our stories. And in the process, we would find ways in which we were vastly similar, or learn different ways of approaching or coping with issues. Such a mundane thing, but a comforting way to start and end our days.

On a larger scale, I believe that LDS female blogs are a wonderful way to hear stories from other women who are or have worked through issues that deeply affect me. Your stories show me ways I have been, am now, or can be. I like how personal stories, unlike pronouncements, do not invite criticism from others, merely an invitation to contemplate. I love how yours stories inspire me to more closely examine my own stories, thoughts and desires, and encourage me to share and explore. I feel that this type of communication, shared personal story, while not exclusive to women, is an important facet in the development of female interpersonal relationships.

One of the most powerful icons of personal story I can think of is Chieko Okazaki. Her talks and books are so popular because she tells her own personal stories, and the lessons she learned from them. I think it is much more effective than telling someone else’s stories, then trying to derive teachings from them. I’m not saying it’s impossible, just that it’s a more circuitous and indirect route. When Sister Okazaki talked about her past experiences with Relief Society as a working woman, I didn’t feel as if she were preaching at me. I felt that she was presenting her lived experience, exploring how it affected her spirituality, and encouraging me to consider my own thoughts on the issue.

On this note, I’d invite you to contemplate the women in your life whose personal stories have positively influenced you. Also, stories in which you have been the role model. I’d also invite you to think about women who may have negatively influenced you, and how you have tried to delete or replace that negativity, or changed said behaviors in yourself. I understand that such stories can be extremely personal, so I’m not expecting a lot of posts. However, I would ask that we not try to discount or dismiss those who feel like sharing.

Jana

Jana is university administrator and History professor. Her soloblog is http://janaremy.com/pilgrimsteps/

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  1. Caroline says:

    Dora, I share your love of other people’s stories. I really hunger for them, and it is also one of the reasons why I love blogs like this.

    There is something really empathy building and powerful when I hear about someone’s lived experiences and the insights they’ve gained from them. And I share your distress when such insights and personal stories are treated disrespectfully. That’s why I always try to phrase my comments in the first person, making it clear that I speak from my experience, my perspective, and that others may very well come to different conclusions.

    As for stories of women that have personally influenced me….. I’ll think about that a bit more and get back to you.

  2. mullingandmusing says:

    Interesting how different styles work for different people. I love stories, too, but, quite frankly, “pronouncements” are the things that really move and inspire my life. I thrive on doctrine…hence my tendency to communicate more in that way.

    As someone who, I suspect (given comments made) added to your frustration last week, please understand that not everyone who shares feelings and thoughts in non-story kinds of ways means to be rude (nor, John, are all calloused and narrow-minded). In such labeling (or perhaps, misjudging), in a sense, you could be doing the very thing you condemn: dismissing others’ points of view and deeply-held feelings and inspiration and experience. This post has given me things to think about, and yet it has also made me feel rather unwelcome unless my style of communicating is just right. (Hard when I don’t have the same struggles, so I don’t have “stories” to create a “shared experience.” I suspect it’s really a certain kind of shared experience that is desired here, is it not? And yet I so desire to share what inspires me as I have pondered and studied about these issues extensively. Sigh.)

    As a sidenote, I deeply appreciate those who have patiently endured my directness and writing style and allowed me to see how what “works for me” doesn’t “work for them.” That has warmed my heart tremendously and renewed feelings of hope that there can be sisterhood even amid such struggles and differences. Really, sisters, there are tender feelings on both sides of the divide — this divide that, sadly, too often dominates our discourse as LDS women, especially here in the blogosphere. (In fact, I rarely experience it anywhere else.) (Alas, perhaps we do have shared experience in that regard, as we have all felt the pain of that divide.) I pray that there will be more shared experiences that can somehow bridge the divide, not deepen it.

  3. Deborah says:

    Blogging at its worst can feel like a drive-by shooting from anonymous posters. At best, we really listen to the person behind the words. And when I have a glimpse — even a little one — of a woman’s story, it opens up my “empathy” channel in a way not much else can. The same has been true of parents (of students) or co-workers that I’ve found difficult for some reason. Once I hear a piece of the “story,” actions are put in relief against a context and I can muster more compassion. Makes me think of the question Jesus asks Peter when he is looking with dismay on a particular women “who was a sinner”: “Do you SEE this woman?”

    M&M/Michelle: One of the LDS women blogs I thought about when I read Dora’s post was the one you are a part of — A Prayer of Faith — which also tends to share and inspire through story. Even your bio on that site has helped me know where you are coming from.

  4. Tam says:

    I remember a funny anecdote I heard once about a guy who wanted his wife to watch football with him, but she had no interest in the sport. He finally found the way to do it was to tell her a little bit about each player – if he was married or not, how many children he had, etc. Once she knew the player’s “stories,” she became interested in watching them play. She must have been one who loved stories. I guess I don’t have a particular style of presentation that speaks to me – whether it be stories, poetry, direct statements, etc., they can all touch me.

    Deborah’s comment about “drive-by shootings” by anonymous posters cracked me up. Being fairly new to the world of blogging, I have certainly experienced the sense of vulnerability that John spoke of as I’ve posted my ideas and experiences into cyberspace. Fortunately, so far in my limited experience no one has responded to me in a disrespectful manner. And as long as someone remains courteous, I have no problem with disagreement. In fact, discussing “the other side” in a respectful manner is energizing – it’s when sincere and vital understanding can begin.

    M&M: I can’t speak for anyone else of course, but personally, I have not felt discounted or criticized by your responses to any of my comments. We seem to be on opposite sides on some issues and I have appreciated the chance to talk about our differing ideas.

  5. Dora says:

    Caroline ~ Thank you for summing it up so succintly, “empathy building and powerful.”

    John and Deborah ~ I agree that if we are not careful, the benefits of internet forums such as this can be overidden, and have a very isolating and offensive effect.

    M&M ~ You are as welcome here as anyone else. However, I direct you to #4 on our comment policy.
    Try to stick with your personal experiences, ideas, and interpretations. This is not the place to question another’s personal righteousness, to call people to repentence, or to disprespectfully refute people’s personal religious beliefs.
    This site is what it is because of the type of dialogue we choose to engage in.

    And would say that maybe it is not so much thoughts/ideas that I object to, as the ownership and expression of such. Let’s take the example of overcoming a sinful habit. I would love to hear about someone’s personal experiences, and how their life has changed as a result. However, I would be very put off by someone who attempted to call me to repentence because of their changed life. In fact, sometimes the insistently righteous can cause moderates to quickly decamp to the other side, which I know is not what is intended.

    And to all ~ At this point I will defer to Miss Manners, who I’ve been rereading lately.

    It is admittedly difficult to arrest the pleasure of correcting and advising long enough to ask oneself who will feel better after the correction is delivered – the person issuing it, or the one who gets it full in the face? But it is well worth the effort, not only for kindess’ sake, but also because it is a law of nature that he (or she) who corrects others will soon do something perfectly awful himself.

    I hope that my actions are not perfectly awful … very imperfectly awful would suit just fine in this case.

  6. Dora says:

    Tam ~ I agree that thoughtful, sincere and respectful discourse between differing camps can be vastly energizing and illuminating.

  7. AmyB says:

    Thank you for a thoughtful post, Dora. I love shared stories as well. I enjoy the insight I gain from the experience of others. The group of women here have helped me realize I am not alone in my struggles. I have learned here that there are thoughtful, intelligent, powerful women who have found a place for themselves in their faith even when it is not always a perfect fit. It makes me feel less lonely and gives me hope that I can find my place as well.

  8. EmilyCC says:

    Dora, such a well-written post!

    The personal stories on Mormon Mommy Wars and Tales from the Crib have really helped me as a new mom. Those bloggers do such a nice job of depicting motherhood in a humorous yet realistic way, and they’re all such fantastically different mothers.

    When I’m sharing personal stories that I wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing with people in my ward, it can be hard to get a comment that might feel “preachy.” On the other hand, when I see such comments, they’re the ones that make me stop and think. I really appreciate that–even if it tends to make me uncomfortable initially.

    Mullingandmusing, I would hate for you to feel unwelcome. Your passion is clear, and I can tell you spend a lot of time thinking and writing your posts. It’d be boring if we all agreed all the time. (Incidentally, I thought your post, The Power of Gospel Sisterhood , was just lovely.)

  9. annegb says:

    This is a lovely post. I love Cheiko Okazaki, as well. I have all her books and I refer to them often.

    The woman who probably influences me most in my personal is my neighbor, who has the most wonderful ability to empathize that which she hasn’t experienced. She’s kind and funny and smart and I want to be just like her.

    I love stories that humanize us all. Stories where you trip going up to bear your testimony or say something stupid. Because I do that sort of thing quite regularly.

    M&M, I’ve never noticed you being rude or mean or anything like that.

  10. Eve says:

    I have a passion for stories, real stories true to the depth and complexity and ambiguity of life. I’m always immensely–sometimes insanely–curious about other people’s lives and faith and doubt and joy and sorrow, especially when I’m wrestling at the brink of mystery and understanding in my own life. (Not to worry–I have some little propriety; I’m far too reserved to run around prying into others’ existences 😉 ). Sometimes I feel a kind of desperation to know how other people live, how they understand the world, how they make sense of the mystery and wonder and sorrow of this life it seems we can only barely understand, and I find myself racking my bookshelves for the stories I need and that I don’t know most people well enough to ask them for. But I _live_ for those sacred glimpses of the sense others make of their lives. I always sit up straight and pay more attention when someone tells a heartfelt story in sacrement meeting or general conference or on a blog. (And I always read the stories in the Ensign long before I get around to the doctrinal articles). I treasure the little windows onto others’ lives, the flashes that illuminate our common faith and our common humanity.

    Really good stories, well told, have depths that transcend language and time. Just last night I was curled up in bed trying to pick my way through a few chapters of the Book of Mormon in my rudimentary German, and it struck me again what a miracle language is–the way the story I was reading has passed through a chain of people so far separated in time (Alma and Amulek were historical figures to Mormon, who in turn was a historical figure to Joseph Smith, who’s a historical figure to me) and that occurred so long ago that the languages I read it in didn’t even exist. And yet the story lives on, holding together historical depth and spiritual immediacy–it’s one of the most familiar and powerful stories of my life. It awes me to think of that story’s (and so many other stories’) incredible history and continued and future vibrancy.

    Wow, that was a tangent!

    I love Cheiko Okazaki too.

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