Picture this: a man is in a hospital bed. Through darkness, he hears a female voice: ‘Sir, please, don’t be alarmed. There was an accident. A bomb in your car…. You lost your right arm.’
The voice disappears, and the man rejoices. ‘It’s only an arm. I’m alive! It’s only one arm.’
As time passes, the joy gives way to pain, especially when he gets a letter from his comrades who pledge to avenge him. ‘Vengeance? How is it supposed to make me feel better? When we all live in peace, roses and lilies will grow out of my arm.’
He recovers, leaves the hospital, and continues his efforts at liberating South Africa.
This man is Albie Sachs, a lawyer, writer, and freedom fighter during the lead up to the overthrow of the apartheid regime in South Africa.
It so happens that one day he meets the man who put the bomb in his car. His name is Henry. Henry craves forgiveness, but the man says ‘I don’t have an arm to shake your hand. Perhaps if you go to the Truth Commission, this may change.’
Meanwhile, this man writes his memoir which is then turned into a movie. On the premier night of the movie, he enters a room, and someone calls him by name. He turns around and it’s Henry.
‘I did it! I went to the Truth Commission. I told them everything!’ Henry seems lively and transformed by this experience.
The man extends his healthy arm and shakes Henry’s hand.
‘Will Henry be my best friend? No. I wouldn’t call him and say let’s go to the movies tonight. But if he sits next to me on a bus, I may ask him ‘How’s it going, Henry?’’
This is a snippet of a presentation Albie gave to us at a recent academic conference in Ukraine. To be honest, I did not expect to hear this speech. Perhaps other participants didn’t either. I don’t know how long the standing ovation lasted, but you don’t often feel inspired to live to the fullest and serve the world after an academic presentation. This one has changed me. In a good way.
So much so that a few hours later when I was making my presentation, I took a risk. I could have just stuck to the academic side of things and delivered the bare bones of my paper. Instead, I told a personal story which explained my interest in this particular topic. The atmosphere in the room felt electric. I don’t think I could have made a similar impact by just sticking to the analysis of the European Court of Human Rights’ jurisprudence.
Our stories are important.
They bring us alive.
They bring alive what we do.
We are wired to learn through stories.
They help others too.
Stories are medicine for our souls.
So, every time you have an opportunity, tell your story. Not in a random and self-centred way. No. Weave it into what you do. Make connections. Chances are you have personal reasons to do what you do. Oh, and it doesn’t have to be a whole book. It could be just a relevant snippet of your history.
The effect of story-telling on other people is palpable.