The Power of Narrative

The destiny of the world is determined less by the battles that are lost and won than by the stories it loves and believes in.

—Harold Goddard

Narratives, or stories, have been shared for hundreds of thousands of years, being passed down in various ways, and their mission is simple: to teach future generations the way the world works and to guide them into good and successful decision making. Arnett, Fritz, and Bell (2009) tell us that “A narrative is the ground that offers a sense of voice or articulateness to a good or set of goods” and serves as “a dwelling place, working rhetorically to protect and promote a given sense of the good”(p.38). As we know from previous discussions, there is no one, universal, and all-encompassing “good” that people work towards; instead there are various understandings of values and competing views of what is good. The reason for the multitude of goods stems from the competing narratives people experience throughout their lives. Learning from and believing in certain narratives provides people with a sense of “oughtness,” or a sense of what is right and good. Narratives can stem from multiple places; religious beliefs, cultural heritages, political or philosophical beliefs, or even experienced events. I myself subscribe to a few personal narratives which continue to guide my actions and my life, but these stories are more than just words, they are the actions and behaviors that I have observed in others. My personal narratives emanate from how I was raised and my family’s influences on my beliefs and behaviors. These narratives serve to shape my view of the world and how I protect and promote my version of good.

My father is a retired police officer turned judicial marshal and DEEP officer. He is an honest portrayal of someone who is hard-working, law-abiding, and loves his family.

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For as long as I can remember, my father has worked long hours and has very rarely taken any vacation time for himself. During his time on the police force, he would work all different shifts which would keep him away from his family for long periods of time. Sometimes, he would even be called away from the house on his days off because the department needed help covering a shift or backup for a very serious call. Even now my father still works hard. In 2001, he retired from the police department and got a job with the federal court buildings a few cities over from where we live. He became a full time deputy marshal at the courts during the week, and also became a part-time DEEP (Department of Energy and Environmental Protection) officer, working on the weekends to protect the Connecticut river. I always joke that he is the only man I know who retired from one job, only to be hired at two new jobs. Despite his long hours away from us, seeing my father work so hard to provide for his family has instilled in me a strong sense of work ethic. I make sure that when I am hired by an organization or company that I give 110% at all times and work my hardest to make myself and my organization better.

There are many times I remember my father working nights and weekends, as is often the schedule for police officers, but he always found time to stop by and see his family. For example, I was singing in a recital one weekend and my father ended up having to work. I was sad he would not be able to see my sing in person, but knew he had a job to do. When it came time during the recital for my performance, I got up on stage and looked out at the audience. My father was standing in the back of the room, in uniform, so he could hear me sing. I found out later that he had talked with my voice teacher to figure out what time I would be singing so he could stop in on his break and hear me.   Simple acts like this showed me that while it is important to work hard in your career, there is always a way to make time for your family.

My mother used to be a photographer but then started her own daycare center and now works as the president of a local union. She has always been an example of creativity, passion, perseverance and care of others.

ImageWhile I do not have many memories of my mother being a photographer, because I was still an infant, I do remember her showing me all of her camera equipment and proofs of photographs she had done throughout the years. Photography was her hobby, but it was also her passion, and while she may not do it professionally anymore, she is still quite the “shutterbug”. Learning about and seeing my mother’s creative side and her passion for photography showed me that it was okay to follow my own passion for performing. One time, when I was having a particularly rough stretch in my life, my mother sat me down and helped me look at things a bit more clearly. She reminded me that I was in charge of my own life and my own happiness and that I could not let other things stop me from doing what makes me happy. She said, “You do not like your job anymore, so doesn’t most of the world. But you know what? You can change it and find something that makes you want to get up in the morning. Find a part time job to help cover the bills and go back to performing! You are always happy when you’re performing. Why stop doing something that makes you happy to do something that makes you miserable?”

My mother also taught me about perseverance, especially through difficult times. When I was a senior in high school, my mother suffered a severe stroke that left her paralyzed on the entire right side of her body. The doctors said she would most likely never walk or even talk again. But, she proved them wrong! After being sent to a rehabilitation center, my mother worked hard to relearn how to do basic functions such as talk, walk, cook, eat, and dress herself. She struggled daily to do the things we take for granted. After almost a half year in rehabilitation, she was able to come home. If you had not previously known of her medical condition, you would never be able to tell that my mother had suffered so severely. My mother persevered and managed to not only learn to walk and talk again, but she was able to dance and drive her car and get a part time job. Since then, she has had four more minor strokes, but each time she perseveres and comes back stronger than ever.  I was so inspired by what my mother had overcome that I decided I would do something I never thought I would be able to do- run a half marathon.

Mom and IIn 2011, I spent the entire year training for my first half marathon race, which I was running in honor of my mother, and I even chronicled my trials and tribulations on my blog “Bigger Girls Can Run Too”. Now, I translate that perseverance into everything I do. I am currently facing physical troubles due to a car accident in November (and surgery in December) where I have had to cut back on almost all of my running and physical exercising. I go to physical therapy twice a week and have to wear a back brace more often than not.  But, I take it all in stride because I know I will persevere and be back to normal soon. I am my mother’s daughter after all.

Having spent my whole life observing their actions and behaviors, I have learned many things from my parents: it is okay to work hard but always make time for your family, following your passions will make you happy, persevering through hard times will make you stronger, and that you can do anything (and, I truly mean ANYTHING) with the support of your family. My goods stem from more than just the words my parents shared with me throughout my childhood, but the ways in which they lived their own goods as well. Arnett, Fritz, and Bell (2009) remind us that “Philosophies of the good matter, and the way in which they are implemented matters” (p.39). This demonstrates to us that in order to develop a sense of oughtness, a person cannot always just be told to “be good,” but rather needs to also be shown how to be good. It also shows us that there is no one right version of good; that a person’s understanding of life and good develops from what they have been told and shown, and those are the goods people protect and promote. And I was fortunate enough to have two phenomenal examples that did just that.

Reference:

Arnett, R.C., Harden Fritz, J.M., & Bell, L.M. (2009). Communication Ethics Literacy: Dialogue and Difference. Los Angeles, California: SAGE Publications, Inc.

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