Saturday, July 28, 2007

Schank's Understanding...

Hey Gang,

I was reviewing my Schank notes and have spent some time contemplating a theme in the "Understanding Other People's Stories" chapter. The theme seems to be more of a thesis really which I think can be succinctly stated as, "all people are doing when they understand is figuring out what story to tell." I think I've missed something in the first half of the book, because Schank can't mean simply this (it seems too improvised). Let me try to explain what I mean.

According to Schank, we know that we understand a situation in relation to other situations we've already understood, now we can add to this that while we are referencing our indexes of understood experiences we are also preparing an appropriate story. Is this right? My fiancee is a therapist, and when she is working she attempts to understand her client's story while not imposing any story of her own. She is trying to create a space for the client to discover the narrative they are telling. This seems different to me. I can imagine that we may all find ourselves in situations where we are not trying to tell anyone a story, but are rather trying to listen to someone else's (while still trying to understand what we are experiencing). We may listen to someone's story and carefully pose questions or suggestions that help them develop that story.

Could Schank mean that in some cases when we're trying to figure out what story to tell that we are sometimes trying to manipulate others into telling the story we think they should be telling? That doesn't seem to be his intent, but I'm not sure here exactly what is.

We may understand experiences by referencing other experiences we've understood, and while doing so be preparing a story of our own to tell in relation to what we are presently experiencing, but is this a fully developed explanation of the entirety of our knowledge? Is it possible to experience understanding not by referencing our stories, but the stories of others? Perhaps a good friend isn't preparing a story to tell as they listen to ours, but she is rather referencing our stories in an attempt to help us better understand what we are trying to say or identify certain story patterns in our narrative.

Does this make any sense? Is it possible to hear someone tell a story and by referencing only their stories (not your own) help them come to a better understanding of that story? Maybe this is what I'm trying to say. In this situation we're not preparing a story to tell. Or are we?

Well, these were some thoughts I wanted to share with you all. I hope you're all having a great weekend. Take care and I'll see you on Monday......your friend in stories, Josh


Professional Storyteller Rachel Hedman said...

When we listen to others share stories, in many ways, their stories become our stories. We witnessed the telling and thus the stories are part of our experiences in life.

The decision is whether we relate to the stories or whether we adopt the stories we hear as ones we would use to define our beliefs or values.

Even in the therapist situation of not imposing one's story upon the patient, the therapist still has another experience from what the patient shares. Due to confidentiality, the patient's story is not shared outside of the office.

Many storytelling coaches and mentors follow the same path as therapist. They know that the storyteller will connect best to the story development if the solutions come from the storyteller--not the mentor. Though the mentor/therapist may point out that something is not in harmony, the answer comes from the storyteller/patient.

Until we tell again,
Rachel Hedman

Barnabus said...

Josh, your reference to the therapist approach reminded me of the National Veterans History Project that ETSU used as a storytelling elective. The very clear direction was that we were there to gather their stories, not to tell them ours. We were question askers and if they said: "Hey, I don't understand that question." The response could not be: "Well, let me tell you a story about something that happened to me that fits the question, and maybe you will recall your event." It was basically an etiquette that oral history takers had to follow. I suspect that therapists have a required decorum also.

Hope your weekend was fun also. See you Monday in Warf-Pickel Hall.

Sandy said...

I think it is important sometimes to not share the connections you are making as you hear a story. I don't “swap stories” as a usual thing. I guess the role of teacher is similar in some ways to therapist. You do a lot of listening and refocusing. To not make connections, however, is impossible. The mind spiders webs out into infinity. I think this is what allows a person to go beyond sympathy and feel true empathy. When I'm with friends and family we just shot the bull, and memory chains are more appropriate. In this class we need to share, to connect, to remember, and inspire – it’s how we grow.