Culture is built and maintained with the stories we tell. Stories about what we admire, find funny, what can and can’t be talked about. Stories indicate what is acceptable, tolerated, and expected in families, communities, and organisations. They are told out loud, in large groups, in closed rooms, and whispered quietly in our heads. And the secrets we keep, the things we don’t say, are stories too.
So when stories we tell make fun of someone’s ethnicity, gender, appearance, ability AND is tolerated, we communicate it is ok. When ideas and opinions are only listened to if they come from persons in certain positions or who look a certain way, it is noticed. When difficult conversations are not had, it is noticed. If stories attack people directly or more importantly subtly and passive aggressively and it is tolerated, toxicity grows.
However, stories work both ways. When stories of generousity, kindness, imagination, enterprising, of encouragement and hope are celebrated we notice too.
Community, culture, and the stories we tell, tolerated, and celebrate are intimately intertwined. They are powerful. I have been part of both toxic and positive cultures. Weirdly, the toxic ones are hard to leave. But the positive ones make me soar and are remembered for a lifetime.
Culture is all around us. It is not static, it ebbs and flows. Stories are its heart beat.
What stories will you tell today?