Engaging with Art, self-care

Building Connection by Engaging with Stories Together

Over the past month, quite a few phone conversations I’ve had have gone like this:

“Hello”

“Hi”

“So, how are things going?”

“Okay, I guess…you know, just sitting at home. What’s new with you?”

“Same as you…nothing really new to talk about….”

Most of the time, we find ourselves repeating the same facts about our lives to each other: what we’re doing at home, what our parents are doing, where our mutual friends are etc. Sometimes we talk, for the fifth time, about coronavirus, where it has reached and how scared we are. Sometimes we just fall silent. Earlier, our busy lives, with new things always happening, offered constant fodder for conversation. Now, as we are forced into sameness and stillness for our own safety, our conversations seem to fizzle out much sooner.

One of the most powerful ways we can connect with each other is through story.

There is nothing wrong with shorter conversations or stillness. But, what I have realised about these repetitive conversations, where we can find nothing to talk about, is that we don’t really connect with each other during them. We know what we are going to say- we have said it many times before. We know what we are going to hear- so we don’t really register it. We remain caught up in the overwhelming fear and frustration that is on our minds all the time and often don’t have the mental space to accommodate anything else or connect with others. And even though we know that everyone is going through this along with this, the constant churn of our own thoughts and feelings can overpower us into feeling alone.

Yet, right now, more than ever before, we need to connect with each other. And, during these times of physical distancing, phone conversations are a major way to access this connection.  

How can we build a feeling of connectedness into our conversations? 

One of the most powerful ways we can connect with each other is through story. When we use our conversations to discuss stories, we are moving together from the world we currently live in to the imagined world of the story. There are many ways to do this. A few are:

1. Watch a movie or a TV series together and discuss it. You can even be on video call while watching it. After it gets done, talk about it: Who were your favourite characters? What did you like and what did you dislike? What would the movie be if a different character was the main character? What would their point of view be?

2.Decide on a short story or novel to read and make time to discuss it. This is something like a mini-Book Club. And you can even discuss it chapter by chapter. What does the book make you enjoy? What do you think is going to happen next? Does it make you see things through a different perspective than before?

3.Create a story together: There is no pressure while doing this. You don’t need to write it for any kind of publication or even to show to others. You don’t have to think about ‘skill’ or ‘quality’. All you need to do is create a story as a fun exercise for your imagination. You can even make a game out of it: one person writes or narrates a paragraph and the other takes over for the next paragraph. It can be serious, ridiculous, mysterious, or whatever else you want it to be.

Sharing the experience of a story is powerful because we are often both experiencing similar emotions together, and this helps us bond.

How is this helpful?

Stories help us move away from the worries of our immediate situation. They involve us in the thoughts, emotions and experiences of someone else: when we create, watch, read or discuss stories, we are no longer stuck on the same thoughts and worries that are on loop in our brains. Stories enable us to able to think beyond our daily routine, activate the imagination and open up ourselves to new ideas. Comedies, like those written by PG Wodehouse, help us laugh more than we may have done for a while. Through fantasies, like the Harry Potter series, we dive into a different world all together.  

Stories give us new topics to talk about:At times when we are bored, talking about a story can liven up a discussion. When we discuss a story that we enjoy, we are likely to be engaged in the discussion and connect with the other person.

Stories open us up to connecting with others:  Sharing the experience of a story is powerful because we are often both experiencing similar emotions together, and this helps us bond. Even if we have different opinions and thoughts about a story, discussion of this can help us see each other’s perspectives and learn about each other. Apart from this, studies have shown that engaging with stories builds empathy, because we think and feel from different characters’ perspective. So, when we discuss stories together, we are not only connecting with each other but also building our capability to connect with all human beings.

Stories can offer certainty in these unpredictable times: Personally, stories have helped me in this way. Re-reading books I love has been enjoyable because I love the writing and I know how it will end. Stories of people surviving crises and wars are also helpful, because they teach me about resilience and give me hope. Sharing these insights with someone else helps to spread the feeling of hope. 

Looking for recommendations on books to read and movies to watch?

Here are some places you can get them:

For books: Books on Toast (BoTCast) is a video podcast which features discussions on different genres of books in each episode. There are many, many great recommendations on it and you can find all the episodes on YouTube. The podcasts themselves are very fun to listen to. They are also on Instagram: their handle is @booksontoast

For movies: The Sparks Society is a mental-health themed Instagram page. Keeping the current lockdown in mind, they have posted a series of movie recommendations, which is especially convenient because they are categorised by the online platform on which they are available. Their Instagram handle is @thesparkssociety.

Happy reading, watching and writing!

If you want to know more on the power of stories, you can take a look at these links:

https://www.theceomagazine.com/business/management-leadership/using-stories-build-relationships/

https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20190523-does-reading-fiction-make-us-better-people

The Science of Storytelling: What Listening to a Story Does to Our Brains

Author

Rhea

I am a feminist, bookworm, occasional writer and perpetual learner. I work at Kolkata Sanved, an NGO that uses Dance Movement Therapy for healing and empowering marginalised communities, and I’m currently training to be a Dance Movement Therapy Practitioner.

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