Edward Chamberlin described a meeting between government officials and First Nation elders in British Columbia, Canada. The government claimed possession of land where aboriginals had lived for countless generations. “If this is your land,” an elder asked, “where are your stories?” Chamberlin – professor of literature at the University of Toronto and a researcher on native land claims – used the elder’s question as the title for a book on culture and identity.
There is great wisdom in this question. Stories shape the way we see the world. We use them to find our place and purpose. “We need to understand our stories because our lives depend upon it,” Chamberlin says. They are the way we make meaning. When we tell and retell them they affirm our shared identity. Stories have the primal power to bring us together. They can also be used to divide us.
Stories are deeply woven into the social fabric. They breathe life into a community. They speak of our collective character. Are they stories of despair, or stories of hope? Are they stories of defeat, or stories of possibility? Are they stories of division, or stories of connection? Transformation stories affirm our dedication to a higher purpose. It is world-changing when people come together to imagine and create a better future.
The elder’s question is a fitting challenge for every community and organization: “Where are your stories?” When we can answer that we know who we are.
This article is an excerpt from a book in progress on collaboration and transformative change. It was first posted on October 24, 2017, on LinkedIn.