Archive for narrative

Do you hear what I hear?

Over the last few weeks, I’ve blogged about the stories I’ve heard surrounding Australia’s history, and how hearing other stories than the ones I grew up listening to has changed my perspective.

In this blog, I want to step in more closely and explore some of the intricacies of hearing and listening at a personal level.

I’m a wordsmith, a person of words – I love to read, write and talk.

If you want to inspire me – talk to me. If you want to build me up and encourage me – tell me I’m doing a great job. I tell the people I care about that I love them and I love to hear someone tell me that they love me too.

However, not everyone is as adapt or comfortable with words as I am. Not everyone communicates their love and affection through words.

My mum shows her love by the things she does – usually something she makes. Mum is of a generation when verbally expressing feelings was not expected, and my siblings and I waited until adulthood to hear Mum actually say ‘I love you’.

But I knew Mum loved me when she came and did the ironing for me after the birth of my third child (ironing is Mum’s least-favourite task) and, years later, when she embroidered a picture of dragonflies (my favourite) for me.

More recently, someone close to me said that sharing the music on their playlist was their way of expressing their feelings. I’m glad they told me that because I didn’t instinctively know this as I communicate differently.

One of the challenges of intimate relationships, parents and children, friendships or work-place relationships is the often unacknowledged expectations around communication.

I am learning that, although I am a person for whom words of affirmation are important, I need to listen to what others are ‘saying’ to me in ways other than words. I am learning to hear what others are ‘saying’ when they don’t or can’t use words.

I am learning to ‘listen’ carefully for the things those I care about ‘say’ to me through their actions and the things they share in ways other than words.

If I assume that the only way to declare love or concern is through words, then it’s easy to assume that another does not feel those things just because they are not expressed in the ways I want to ‘hear’.

I am learning to ‘listen’ with my eyes, to notice what others do. I am learning to ‘listen’ for the things others don’t say. I am learning to ‘read between the lines’ of what others say and do.

When I do that, I ‘hear’ much more than is immediately obvious and I don’t miss the things that are actually being said in less obvious ways. Most importantly, I don’t discount what others feel or intend because they express it differently to the way I do.

Guiding Stories

There comes a moment when the old stories start to lose their power.

This happens when an event, or series of them, disrupts the narrative that is our life by inserting an alternate story into that narrative.

That happened for me as I worked in off-shore processing in Nauru. With a front-row seat to changes in government policy, and the impact of those policies on people without power, I began to question the ‘white Australian story’ that I’d grown up with.

As I began to step away from that story, I began to really listen to the stories of indigenous Australians, which made me reassess my place in Australia and its history. As my perspective changed, those who were close to me did one of two things: they allowed this alternate story to change their own outlook or they held more tightly to the old story.

Those around me who held on to the narratives of white privilege felt threatened by the growth in influence of narratives other than their own. This sense of threat sprang from an unacknowledged fear that their comfortable way of looking at life and living in this society was in losing its power.

This ‘white Australian story’ that I’d grown up with, having been raised in a white, middle-class, conservative, Bible-belt area of Sydney, had been a comforting narrative for much of my then 50+ years. It was comforting for those who were ‘in’ because it upheld the status quo of white privilege.

However, this narrative is no longer my ‘guiding story’, nor is it the guiding story for life in 21st century Australia. I am thankful to my good friend Bruce Adams for this insight.

Although white privilege is alive and well in Australia, although indigenous Australians are still disadvantaged and suffer systemic discrimination, although racism remains an ugly issue, it is becoming clear that these ways of looking at life are much less tolerated.

There is a new guiding story being written for Australia and many authors can, and are, contributing.

Its chief authors must be indigenous Australians, whose story has for too long been shunned, ignored and silenced. Other authors are those who have made Australia home, having arrived as international students, migrants, asylum seekers and refugees.

White Australians are authors too – this is our home – but we must be more aware of how dominant and destructive our version of the story has been and be prepared to listen to and embrace other versions of the story.

As we build this new narrative, perhaps Australia could return to its indigenous roots and become what it once was, tens of thousands of years ago – a true home to many nations.