Four Types of Stories

 

At a workshop I attended last week, we talked about story as it pertains to race. Through a framework developed at Barnard College, we learned about four types of stories and how knowing and hearing these stories can help expand our understanding of culture, ethnicity, and race.

As we went through the exercise, the types and explanations of these stories were a catalyst to important conversations happening in the room.

Because I identify as an adult third culture kid, I thought about this framework through that lens. How can this be adapted to help those of us who are third culture kids? How can we use the material to better understand ourselves and others? How can this help us to relate well with the world around us?

To answer those questions, I decided to do this blog post and focus on these types of stories and how they translate into the TCK world. Disclaimer – these four stories are critically important in the race conversation, and this piece is not to dismiss that, but rather to see the framework as something that works in other situations.

Stock Stories: These are the stories that are most common, the ones we hear regularly, whether or not they are true. These stock stories for TCKs generally fall into two categories: The amazing TCK and the maladjusted TCK. The amazing TCK is the story that says life was amazing, we got to travel, learn different languages and cultures, have a broad view of the world, etc. The maladjusted TCK is the story that says we’ll never really fit into our home countries and cultures, we have feelings of loss and grief that are not resolved, we will forever miss the worlds where we were raised. There are elements of truth in both those stories. The problem is that neither of them make room for nuance and complexity. As Chimamanda Adiche says so well: There is a danger of a single story. No one is a single story. 

Concealed Stories: These are the stories that remain hidden. They may be sad or beautiful, they may tell a story of connection or disconnect; but they remain in the shadows. These stories challenge stock stories because they give a broader view, another perspective. They increase the complexity of the TCK. These stories are the ones that give family history and dynamics, that give the background to some of the experiences that the TCK has had. An example could be the story of evacuation, when within a couple of days, the TCK lost everything that they knew because of a war in their adopted country. The TCK keeps it hidden — after all, they were safe, they didn’t have to experience the horror of war like their national friends. But it’s a concealed story that, once shared, reveals many things about resilience, grief, and belonging. Sometimes the concealed story is the one that makes us third culture kids. The story about living in multiple places and multiple cultures – hidden because it’s easier to say “I’m from Kansas.”

Resistance Stories: These are the stories that challenge the status quo. These stories say “Don’t put me in a box that I can’t escape.” They challenge parents, teachers, and decision makers on the stereotypes that can block growth. These are the stories that say “I’ll use my sense of being ‘other’ to help me be more empathetic to the marginalized, the outcast.” “I won’t let stereotypes define me – I’ll fight them.” The resistance story fights for the research that has validated the TCK experience, and defends terminology when others are critical.

Counter Stories: These are new stories, stories that build on resistance stories and counter the stock stories. These are the stories that say “I can use my ‘best of’ skills and do well wherever I live.” These are the stories where we take our background, our past, and use it to find a niche that works for us as adult third culture kids. These are the stories that we write, not the ones written for us. Stories that combine both stock stories to craft a stronger, more honest picture of who you are as an individual and as part of a larger tribe of TCKs. It could be the story that says “Yes I grieve, but I also love what I experienced, I love that I am capable of complexity, capable of understanding multiple world views.”

In all of this, the strongest message to me is to own our story, to walk inside that story and not let others write it for us. Brene Brown says that “You either walk inside your story and own it, or stand outside your story and hustle for your worthiness.” Understanding these types of stories can help us do just that.

As you read this, what do you think? Where do you see these types of stories working in your community? If you are a TCK, what are the stories you could tell that fit into these categories? Join the conversation! 

2 thoughts on “Four Types of Stories

  1. It’s been a week of experiencing my own “foreignness” —my own strangeness. It all started with an episode regarding the American flag and it ended with a longing to see a Pakistani truck again. And now suddenly reading this post I realize how I’ve poured shame on my own story this week, how I’ve longed for an easier narrative, how I’ve ached for my own familiar story. Once again, Marilyn Gardner, you’ve made me cry–and I’m not entirely sure why!

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  2. Being an adult TCK myself, I can totally relate to these different types of stories that make up one’s identity and determine how one relates to the different countries and cultures one is a part of. My own story is probably a mix of these different types described above.

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