Insight article

Friday Stories: The first happy ending

Welcome to a new weekly fixture from The Storytellers Blog: Friday Stories. These will generally be short stories or anecdotes drawn from all kinds of places – from our own experiences with clients to classic bits of folklore.

This week, we’ll begin, fittingly, if not overly self-referentially, with a story about storytelling that came through BBC Radio 4 last weekend.

Philippa Perry tells the story of a social worker and three children who, after years of movement and instability, had finally been placed with a foster family that was working out exceptionally well, and the foster parents wanted to adopt the children permanently.

Delivering the good news, the social worker told them, “'You will not be split up. You are going to stay with Leslie and Sam. We are going to find local schools for you all and start the adoption process.'”

But the children gave her a blank look. She asked them to repeat back to her what she had said.

“'We will be split up. We can’t stay with Leslie and Sam. There aren’t any schools for us and no one will adopt us.'”

“What happens”, Perry asks us, “when we don’t know about happy endings?”

Eventually, Perry says, the correct message got through, and the children sobbed with joy. The children’s difficulty in processing the information given to them stemmed from their inability to place the information within the context of a narrative they had heard before. Their own happy ending was a brand new story, and it took time, and repetition, to sink in.

As humans, she says, “Stories formed us, and continue to do so. We are our stories.”

What are the plots, the dynamics, the characters that continue to fill our understanding of our own experiences? It’s not an easy question to answer, either for ourselves personally or more broadly, for businesses and institutions, as they decipher and reshape the stories that live within them.

“Be careful of the stories you repeatedly expose yourself to”, she warns, because stories absolutely affect our perception of reality.

It’s well worth a listen.

Follow us on Twitter! @storyacademy

Nailia Tasseel