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Stories Of The Blues

April 21, 2015

I was reading a review of last week’s ADDASS conference and the reviewer remarked that the most potent aspect of the conference, the parts that had the most impact were the real stories from real service users and their families. This shouldn’t surprise me – I am always hearing about the power of storytelling; the real life narrative from the expert by experience.

I’m in two minds about this. Sure, plonk me in a room where the two speakers are a senior bod from the Department of Health, powerpointing to the point of powerlessness on the latest rise in DoL’s figures and Mr E from the Bournwood case talking about H’s time in the hospital, and I know which speaker is going to speak to me. I know, when I tell the Get Steven Home story at conferences, that I will look around the audience during the narrative and see people crying, laughing, raging – i.e. the story has impacted. They have experienced an emotional reaction, probably because the story is about and told by, two human beings. We are not a case study.

What does my other mind have to say though? Our story has been in the public domain for nearly five years now, so I wonder if it has any relevance to today. Does a story told at an event really impact on the day to day practices of the people in the field? I am aware that there I am, a human being telling a human story about a vulnerable human being who had his human rights breached after being caught up in an inhuman system. People may be shocked hearing the story today but will it still be around when they are doing a best interests assessment next Thursday? I hope so.

Earlier this year a weird thing happened. I was asked to tell the story at a very large conference. I had quite a long slot and I asked the organiser if I could use the last five minutes to talk about LBBill. He agreed. However, when it came to the end of the story, someone put their hand up and asked – “Please tell the story about the logs”. I chuckled thinking “I’m taking requests now”. Later, it reminded me that I don’t own our story and that’s okay. But for a split second I felt like Donny Osmond trying to plug his new techno country and western album and all the audience wants to hear is Puppy Love.

I guess this is a call out for opinions/experiences. Are stories that powerful? It’s one thing to be moved upon hearing the story but does it have any lasting impact? Should it? It’s one event in one person’s life that is being narrated. And after a while, does the real human story enter a space where it is heard as a story but Is held in a peculiar fiction, mythical memory.By the way, I hope this doesn’t sound ungrateful and I’m also not looking for affirmation. But I am genuinely interested in whether stories are as powerful as the commentators often proclaim.

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From → Social Care

4 Comments
  1. Shirley Buckley permalink

    Mark your and Steven’s story has had a huge impact on me and my understanding of autism. Ive told everyone about it, and about LB. But, this is so sad, nothing has changed. My son has been under a dols, unauthorised at first, and now authorised but not challenged, for 8 years, and the Court of Protection, Mr Justice Charles, has ordered that this should stay in place. Thousands in the same position. House of Lords select committee say again and again MCA not fit for purpose and nothingchanges. Personally I cant think of any solution. As long as THEY can say Connor’s death was natural,what can we do???????

  2. weary mother permalink

    There are terrible stories: stories that will never be told. Stories too long and too terrible for the people involved to wish to relive over and over, for others.

    There are heart bursting, brain splittingly inspirational stories that must be told, and have been told, – like yours and Steven’s if the bad things are to stop and the law changed. At what cost?. And how do we tell the difference?

    My issue with our stories for public sharing, is where they are used to illustrate/explain to people the ‘ what’ that never ever would have happened,if people had done their job properly in the first place.

    And the mountain of stories lying untold; of years of legal battles just to achiever the same justice that non disabled people expect as routine? That failed.

    I am a story teller, ask my children and grandchildren, All fiction, all secure with comfort and a good feel. All familiar,and set around these adored little and once little, people.

    But when it comes to being asked to show my sores publicly again and again, just to inform/to train already over trained people; people who feel our damage for half an hour? Mmmmmm?

    Yet I know that passionate champions for better, do go away revived by our history, energised to have another go at breaking down dogma they have to climb over every day. But this must be the costliest to us, and cheapest to others, education going.

    Way way back I was involved in teacher training, where one new student brightly asked me , ‘how did you feel when you learned your baby was Down’s’……….

    Well, once upon a time………

  3. Yes, stories are powerful and important, but here’s how: they lead the listener into identifying emotionally with the viewpoint that the storyteller has selected. So they’re a powerful mechanism for pulling a team together emotionally. Whiich team? The storyteller’s team. Suppose you’re a professional listening to someone’s story of experiencing mistakes and lost opportunities that ends in downright cruelty from a professional service. You’re attending the meeting because you’re concerned about good practice, because you want to get better. You’re probably the only one from your team who got time off (maybe with expenses) to attend… But then you go back to your team, to the pressures of rationing time and resources, to the form-filling and the emphasis on “process”, to the emotional work of helping others, to the emotional pull (that happens to any group) of “us” against “them”, to the story you tell each other (and the world) about the good you’re doing, despite everything. Not everyone is strong enough to resist that sort of silo-thinking, not everyone has good leadership to support a team in caring, not everyone recognises the slide from ethics to make-do to… much worse. I’m leaving aside any “rotten apples” in this analysis, but see how easily they can flourish when everyone else has lost their moral strength. So, back to the storytelling… where’s the storytelling that gives back some moral strength to the weaker-minded professional, that helps them recognise that slippery slope and regain their footing? Perhaps you could form a double-act with someone who’s fought their way back to the higher ground on the professional side? That would be one brave professional, because where could they admit all that and still be employed? [nb I’m a carer, and though I meet the usual (too small) proportion of strong, caring professionals, I’ve yet to meet any one who can get far enough away from the “doing good” story to discuss publicly how teams really work.]

  4. Pauline Thomas permalink

    Human nature being what it is, stories that shock will soon be forgotten and replaced by other news. Unless, of course, someone picks up the baton and runs with it all the way to the policy makers in Parliament. Like the LBBIll? Once enshrined in law our loved ones should be safe and respected. Lets hope and pray that indeed is what will happen.

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