One-Sided Story-Telling

Story-telling is a major part of the human experience, partly because it seems to puts our lives into perspective. A major theme that seems to be embedded within community psychology is helping people tell their own stories. The article about tales of terror and joy by Julian Rappaport (2000) illuminates this theme. He shows how in many narratives a particular group is only used as a prop and virtually no consideration is given to their side of the story. A very poignant example given is the biblical story of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar. This example really strikes a nerve because people only look at it from the perspective of the messenger of God who has an infertile wife and a servant who is willing to sire a child for the couple. It is difficult to see it from another point of view especially when one point of view is taught and engraved into people’s minds, especially with a topic as sensitive as religion. Once Sarah is able to conceive, Hagar and her child are sent off. Many people do not look from the perspective of Hagar, a woman who was left to fend for herself and her child with little or no support. Editing of the story is not even necessary, only a change of paradigm and seeing things from a different perspective.

Another part of the article that resonated with me was the section regarding the public elementary school in an African American community. All too often, topics like this are swept under the rug or looked at from the point of view that something is wrong with these African American children. The dominant narrative is that these children are undisciplined and that their lack of discipline is due to a broken home. Such narratives are accepted as fact and these children have to face undue treatment and unwarranted criticism. He does a great job at illuminating the fact that most of the teachers at this school have no way to relate to these kids, a fact that is too common in these situations. This point goes in line with James Kelly’s (1970) article about qualities a community psychologist should possess. A common thread with all of these qualities seems to be the ability to help other take control of the narrative of their lives. Many of these teachers make assumptions about these children and those assumptions influence the way in which the teachers deal with the students. Rappaport makes a good point in showing how this is erroneous thinking and it allows for things to be shown from the perspective of the other party. Many times, their perspective is disregarded due to beliefs of hypersensitivity or instances of victim blaming.

The article also shows that various environmental factors and relationships have to be adequately assessed in order to truly approach a problem effectively. People working with different populations have to immerse them within the communities and it seems as if the teachers within the elementary schools are unwilling to do that. There has to be a consideration for the different resources available. In allowing other people to tell their stories, they are all being given the opportunity to be collaborators in the community. This is also something that is illustrated by Rappaport. There is not much collaboration between the teacher and the students or parents. Many times the parents are given the blame for the student’s perceived shortcomings. Not much consideration is given to the possible fact that the blame falls at the feet of the teachers, not the students or parents. What Rappaport and Kelly show in their articles is the need for individuals to be able to tell their own stories and to be active participants, not mere subjects. They highlight the importance of using different perspectives to tell stories from a more balanced point of view. In doing this, individuals that were initially left without a way to tell their story are given new opportunities to gain control over the narratives portrayed to the larger public.

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