QFT: How can stories help us grow?

 

Acne, angst, awkwardness, and existential crises what more do I have to deal with? Yeah that’s right, figure out what I want to do for the rest of my life.

One day I’ll wake up and a galore of responsibilities will be a begrudged gray cloud hanging over my head. It may be gradual, or all at once, but soon I’ll be in the driver’s seat of my own life.

I’m afraid of the unknown, I’m only 16, and I’m unsure of what I want. I used to be afraid of growing up. Growing up was a mystifying, unfathomable concept. I just wanted to stay comfortable in the shelter of my parent’s arms, but like a rite of passage every bird takes when they learn to fly, I eventually will be preparing to spread my wings and leave behind that familiar comfort.

Growing up for me is like a subconscious observance of the people around me and the events that take place. It’s filled with stories of the people that surround me and their lives accompanied with my own experiences of situations and events just like Esperanza’s account.  

Like a lot of girls, Esperanza is split between following the footsteps of the women in her family and the women in her neighborhood who find themselves confined by their dependence on their husbands. As a young girl, she wants to embrace her femininity, but the traditional gender roles in her environment define a feminine woman as a powerless possession. In search of that balance between independence and femininity, she experiences both sides of the spectrum.

As we read the story of Esperanza and her years of coming of age, there are not many women in her life that she wants to live like, but rather would try to avoid falling into the same pattern of dependency that have recurred for generations and in the hispanic Chicago neighborhoods. The story of her grandmother that she describes: “Until my great-grandfather threw a sack over her head and carried her off. Just like that, as if she were a fancy chandelier. That’s the way he did it. And the story goes she never forgave him. She looked out the window her whole life, the way so many women sit their sadness on an elbow. I wonder if she made the best with what she got or was she sorry because she couldn’t be all the things she wanted to be. Esperanza. I have inherited her name, but I don’t want to inherit her place by the window” (Cisneros 11), is the exact unhappiness she hopes to avoid.

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Rafaela is another neighbor who, “is still young but is getting old from leaning out the window so much, gets locked indoors because her husband is afraid Rafaela will run away since she is too beautiful to look at. Rafaela leans out the window…and wishes there were sweeter drinks, not bitter like an empty room” (Cisneros 79,80). Sally, who is the same age has the biggest effect on Esperanza though. She finds herself in the same situation eventually: “[Sally] sits at home because she is afraid to go outside without his permission. She looks all the things they own: the towel and toaster the alarm clock and the drapes. She likes looking at the walls, at how neatly their corners meet, the linoleum roses on the floor, the ceiling smooth as wedding cake” (Cisneros 101,102). Within three different generations a recurring pattern takes place. The stories of the women in her life were a way to help her identify the life she didn’t want and forget about what she could’ve been, but still connect her to the people that ultimately shaped her. A way in which she would never lose where she came from, but could separate herself from the common cycle of dependency. It helped her realize what was important in her life to enable her to grow and  escape the stereotype of a less fortunate latina girl.

Coexisting on this populous planet is probably the most important job of a human being. There are 7.5 billion other people who all have stories to tell. As complicated as growing up can be, stories of others are helpful ways to gain knowledge and experience, like how Esperanza did. As Chimamanda Adichie describes in her TED talk, a single story can be  “used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower, and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people. But stories can also repair that broken dignity.” She talks about the detrimental effects of hearing only one perspective rather than many, emphasizing that before she experienced things herself and made her own judgment, ignorance was a common barrier, restricting the growth of compassion.

Stories reframe and reshape what we think we know, helping us see certain ideas in a different light. “They [stories] help children develop empathy and cultivate imaginative and divergent thinking – that is, thinking that generates a range of possible ideas and/or solutions around story events, rather than looking for single or literal responses” (theconversation.com). Thus, stories are significant determinants in how we perceive the world, helping us grow in character.

Featured Image: Interrail 2007 – Eastern Europe by Mr. Theklan Taken on July 19, 2007
Image of window and woman (red): Girl in the Window  by starmanseries Taken on July 18, 2012

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