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  • Writer's pictureRyan Wilson

The Power of Stories

What we say and don’t say BOTH matter. What we see and don’t see, BOTH matter.

This was highlighted at last night’s screening when one woman shared that she was fortunate to come from a great family, was told daily she could do or be whoever or whatever she wanted to be. She became a physiotherapist and loves what she does, but she also realized something else. It had never occurred to her that she could have been a doctor. Nor had it occurred to her family, as no one suggested it to her either, despite her interest in the human body, diagnosing and treating ailments.

Who gets to tell the story, from whose perspective, when, how often and who retells it, ALL shape our experience of life. These become the FILTERS we use to make sense of the world, and it all happens automatically, unconsciously … without us even noticing. Why does this matter you ask? Read on…

Think back to your childhood, what was discussed at the dinner table? Who made the decisions about money? About house things? About parenting? Who had the power? What makes you think that? How did your parents, grand-parents, neighbors interact?

Was it women talking about parenting in the kitchen while preparing food or drinks for the men, who sat and discussed politics another room? Perhaps it was the women discussing politics and power, while being served by men who prepared them food. What did that teach you about how the world worked? About gender roles?

What did you learn about expressing emotions?

Was it different for men vs women? Children vs adults? What did you learn about other religions, races, cultures, sexual orientations? If these were not even mentioned, what messages did you learn from that?

Think about it. If, at the dinner table, your parents  spoke of how the world was out to take advantage of them or that they were being treated unfairly then you are more likely to focus on or notice situations where someone is taken advantage of, or treated unfairly (yourself included). These experiences carry a stronger emotional weight than the times when we are not. In fact, according to the research, we are less likely to notice things (people, events, etc.) that contradicts our world view. When we do notice facts that go against our own beliefs, we are likely to just call it an exception to the rule.


Don’t worry though, it isn’t all bad, because this same thing happens when we hear about how people are kind, giving and considerate at the dinner table- we adopt that filter also. So it isn’t always bad…

The problem is that if we are not AWARE of our filters, we never question them, and whether or not they serve us or not? If they make us feel stronger or weaker. If I was told as a child I was “sensitive” or “emotional”, is using that filter serving me? What if I was told I wasn’t good at math? What if I have the filter that “I am depressed”, or “there is something wrong with me”, or “I am unwanted or unsafe”.

This tendency to attend to situations that support our pre-existing ideas about how the world works and who we are or get to be within it, is how prejudices and racism, along with all forms of discrimination persist.

Stereotypes and prejudices often persist even in the face of seemingly insurmountable evidence that women can hold positions of power without their performance being impacted by their “time of the month”, or that their worth extends beyond their looks or sexuality, that Black men are not all criminals or dangerous etc.

Filters create our experience. If you are still not sold on the idea, consider why kids believe in Santa Clause? It is because their parents, grand- parents, friends and neighbours tell them so. And it is only when some of this starts to break down that things change, and when those same systems all tell them it wasn’t true, they accept the new filter!

The stories we tell or don’t tell shape our experience of the world!


So what do we do about this? What is the solution given we get and act on these filters unconsciously?

 Change always starts with AWARENESS.

  1. Begin by noticing the messages YOU received about how the world worked, power, money, gender, sex, parenting etc and who you get to be in it.

  2. Have discussions with others about what messages they received, who retells the story is part of what makes it seem so true, we have to bring these issues up with our tribe.

  3. Look at Workability– Begin to ask the question if these filters make you feel STRONGER or WEAKER? Are they moving you towards or further away from living your VALUES?

  4. Coach youth and our peers to consider how

media and family messages shape our culture and society. Discuss what it seems the marketers want us to believe or do and why (ie. Bombardment of images of young , fit, photo-shopped males and females in adds creates anxiety that we are not good enough so we will go out and buy their products, like the fast cars, the make up etc).

5. Take Action– whenever possible, don’t buy the tabloids, the magazine with the size 0 on the cover and

don’t go to opening night of the movie that promotes women’s only strength as being her sexuality, or minorities being depicted unjustly.

ASIDE: Thank you for all who participated in yesterdays’ screening of MISS-Representation, and if anyone wanted to see it but was unable to attend, it is currently on NETFLIX and is available for rent or buy on iTunes.

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