How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
How Storytelling Shapes your Self-perception
Guest articles > How Storytelling Shapes your Self-perception
by: Lisa Earle McLeod
My favorite memories are of my Dad telling my brother and me stories about his childhood.
My Dad was a city boy from Washington, DC. Every summer he would head down to Walhalla, South Carolina to spend a month with his southern cousins who took great delight in teasing the “Yankee” kid.
Every night my brother and I would beg Dad for another story about his “mean” cousins.
There was the time they told him that South Carolina bees didn't sting. They walked through a bee-filled patch of clover in their bare feet, telling Dad, “South Carolina bees aren't like the bees up North; they don’t have stingers down here.”
My Dad didn’t realize that a group of southern boys growing up in the 1940s went barefoot for most of the year. The cousins’ feet were so tough and calloused that the bees’ stingers could barely penetrate their skin.
Not so for my Dad. When he took off his lace-up, city boy shoes to walk through the clover, he was stung twenty times.
Then there was the time the cousins told him that if you went down into the bottom of the well, you could see stars in the daytime. That was actually true. They lowered my Dad down in the bucket and sure enough, he could see stars in the daytime. But when he hollered for the cousins to pull him up, they ran away, leaving him shouting from the bottom of the well until his mother heard him an hour later and pulled him up.
But our favorite stories were about the times my Dad got back at the mean cousins. There was the time he went out late at night and painstakingly loosened the bolts on the front wheels of all their bicycles. The next day my Dad said, “Race you down the hill.” The cousins got about halfway down the hill when their front wheels started to shake, and then flew off. The image of the mean cousins at the bottom of a hill in a pile of bikes as my Dad rode off never failed to get a big cheer out of me and my brother.
We knew how the story ended, but we begged to hear it over and over again.
We also loved the one about Dad tying the mean cousins to their bunks while they slept. Then he lit a bucket of oily rags and pushed it under the bed so that they thought the house was on fire.
A parent today would be horrified at those stories. But those stories helped shape our self-image. At the time I wasn’t struck by the violence; those stories told my brother and me what kind of people we are. We weren’t wimpy kids from Washington, DC. We were the Earle family. We were smart. We could figure things out. It took more than a bunch of mean cousins to get us down.
When my Dad told us those stories, he was creating the narrative for our family.
Stories are the soundtrack of our lives. It’s not without coincidence that all the great religions of the world have a book of stories. Stories remind us of who we are and who we want to be.
The stories you tell about yourself, your family and your organization create your belief system.
Every family and every organization has a narrative.
If you want to create a new perception, create a new story.
Lisa Earle McLeod helps organizations win the hearts and minds of customers and employees. She is the author of three books included the best-seller, The Triangle of Truth: The Surprisingly Simple Secret to Resolving Conflicts Large and Small, A Washington Post Top 5 Book for Leaders.
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