There are no stories more meaningful than our own biography, but unless you are a famous person it’s likely that your story, in all its fantastic richness, will die with you. Think of all the billions of stories that have been lost in the history of mankind. The stories we create about our life, serve many purposes but perhaps the most important is to reveal to ourselves and others that our life has meaning and purpose.
Our life is a story, more accurately a multitude of stories that we can imaginatively fashion into a narrative that brings a sense of coherence to what otherwise might seem a hotpotch of events and circumstances. Creating a life narrative is a deeply human and ecological phenomenon in the sense that it connects us in our present. It involves us selecting and remembering specific moments, circumstances, people and relationships in our life, making stories about these things then connecting and weaving the stories into a narrative to create the meaning that is our life. Of course there are good and bad experiences and lots of loose ends, lost opportunities and unfulfilled ambitions, but our life narrative is a heuristic to help us make sense of and value our life as a journey and help us answer those existential questions like ‘why am I hear?’ Our life story captures our appreciation of our own existence in the great story of humanity and reflects the identity’s that we have created for ourselves.
We tell the stories of our life to our children to illustrate something important we have learned and in this process we reveal to them the person we were and are. Whenever we meet someone new we search for common points of reference, usually through stories of ourselves and our past and current life. We might draw on our lived experiences in conversations with friends and with colleagues at work again to illustrate a point and to convey to them the sort of person we would like them to see, and perhaps hide the stories that are not so complementary. As we tell these stories to ourselves and others they become the narrative of our life. As we weave our stories into a larger narrative we integrate different parts of our lives. The narrative becomes the means to integrate the different dimensions of our lifewide experiences into the journey that is our, past, present and possible futures.
The ecologist in me see’s the question of why we create and tell stories as a complex multi-dimensional and relational phenomenon – we create and tell our stories for many different reasons and they serve many purposes during our lifetime. We are adept at drawing on them for motivation and inspiration. We are good at using them to relate and empathise with others when a suitable moment emerges in a conversation. They are particularly valuable in helping us sustain and develop the relationships we have developed with family and close friends. In this way they are profoundly important to an ecological concept of humanity. We use them to illustrate to the people we are nurturing, some profound truth or insight we have discovered through the ups and downs of life. We construct them to help us make sense of our own reflections and create memorable thoughts that we can share. We commandeer them to promote ourselves and like a politician we spin them to show ourselves in a favourable light. We use them to heal ourselves and to create our sense of wellbeing and spirituality, to come to terms with our disappointments and regrets, and we make use of them to be thankful for the experience of living the life we have been so fortunate to have had. And when we chose to record our stories using a particular medium we move our story from our imagination to some new artefact which we have made and in this act we extend our creativity.
The importance of life stories and narratives to us and to the people who know and love us, was brought home to me recently when a close friend was diagnosed with a degenerative disease which means she will, in a matter of only a few months, lose her memory. I offered to help write her life story for her children. She willingly accepted and I spent over 3 hours recording the stories of her life and the lessons that life had taught her. It was a privilege to listen to her telling her stories knowing that she trusted me to communicate it when she could no longer do so for herself. What struck me was the multiplicity of stories that she wove together in a life well lived and how certain experiences or defining moments shaped in a profound way her personality and her future life. Furthermore, when integrated into a narrative these revealed her character, her beliefs and her values.
I have been affected by the experience and it created a need to explore, through Lifewide Magazine, the idea of personal stories and narratives. Through the contributions of others we were interested to discover how, when and why we create life stories and narratives for ourselves, or when we help others create their life narratives, and the effects and consequences of engaging in such acts. We were interested in the means by which narratives are recorded and communicated - what technologies, if any, are used to bring a story to life and enable it to be shared. We were interested in understanding what it means to create such narratives and how places, people, objects, events or situations stimulate the need or desire to reflect on and recount our stories and narratives. We were interested in how the creation of our life narrative formed in the past, influences our present and our future, our sense of identity and who we would like to become.
The magazine is free to download from the magazine webpage
(1) Jerome Bruner Life as Narrative Social Research Vol 71 : No 3 : Fall 2004 691-710