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The power of a story


Last month, I attended the Contextual Analysis Workshop in Sihanoukville, organized by United Nations in Cambodia and the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies.  It aimed to look at the socio-economic and political issues in the province of Preah Sihanouk, the country in general, as well as regional and international issues affecting Cambodia.

We were given a story about the Alligator River. For you who have heard of the story and processed it, you would know where this post is going, but bear with me. For those who haven’t heard of it, this is the story.

So we were asked to answer the matrix by rating the characters based on who is the best to the worst character in column A. Column B had to be the answer of the seatmate. After that we were asked to talk to our seatmate and compare our answers and negotiate and put, on the final column what we agreed on. After that we were asked to process our answers by answering a few questions. The main question was: “can we really be neutral?” How did you understand the story? What were the questions on your mind? What were the blind spots? What were your assumptions? How do these assumptions influence your judgement?

As soon as these questions started to be asked, the story suddenly became more complicated that it seemed. Was Abigail a victim or harasser? Is Gregory a bad guy at all? Was Vana neutral or did they take a stand? Was Slug justified with what he did?

I personally thought that for stories like this, there are no straight answers. There are so many blind spots and the missing information is supplied by our own point of view, our programming and default answers.

After the discussion,  the story didn’t seem so straightforward after all. Although stories may appear flat, it could be as layered as the number of people reading it. It matters what the lens of the readers are in reading a certain story. What does multiple point of views bring into the picture, and how do they lead to insight?

In this example we can see the power of a story. A story could lead or mislead. A story could clarify or muddle. A story could inspire or provoke. A story could perpetuate the hegemony, or help emerge a new understanding, a new way of seeing.

So the other day, I had fun on Facebook posting this.

in my great

. I was having so much fun about it but I didn’t feel my fb fam were understanding about it. Well, I’m not actually the kind of person who would brag about my great and unmatched wisdom. But then like everyone on the net I do sometimes fall prey to the temptation of a humble brag. Still, I was wondering what people were making of it, if it simply was a joke or what? Here is actually the context of it. One morning I woke to it on twittee. as tempted to post that, and I did so as a reply to one of the comments. But I did feel it kind of spoiled the fun I was having. Hasan Minaj never explained his jokes. You would have to be smart and well-informed enough to enjoy them. And it’s just “sorry, not sorry” to those who weren’t able to get it. That’s what connects the story teller to the listeners, if there is something common to them and highlighted in such a way that they “get” it, the story, or joke for that matter. It is how something reveals a meaning to the listeners or readers. It is what they take home from it.

Then a few days later, I posted this tiny vignette.

she he

There were only a few comments and reactions. But for me they are priceless, and so revealing. Those people who knew me personally, or were hopeless romantics, those who value grammar, or are more in tune with animals, each of them had their own interpretation, thus different reactions.

So what is the story about? Is it about two lovers professing love while baring each other’s heart out? Is it a man purposely demeaning children by comparing them to dogs? He must be non-vegan then! Or is it about a man who loves his dogs like his own children that he had to point out the fact? In that case, he is pre-vegan! Or is it a fable about a female goat and a male dog talking about their offsprings? What do you think?

A good story, no matter how terse, is never flat. It has layers and nuances and movement and message.

So what is the story really about? Have you made your guess? Actually, I’m not telling you. At this point you already know what you need to know. And that is exactly the point I want to drive at. A story could be or mean anything. It’s what you, as story teller or reader, make of it that matters. #SRC