Learning From Stories: Reflection (part one in a three-part series)

Updated: May 22, 2020

It was the summer of 1973. I was three years old. My mom informed me that I needed to help her clean the house instead of going to visit my grandma (I wanted to see grandma). I was so angry that I packed my suitcase with all of my clothes, including my swimsuit, and decided I was going to move out. The only issue was that the suitcase so full that I couldn’t lift it.

When someone tries to tell me what to do or point their finger at me, my response is always the same…. I figuratively, or literally, give them ‘the finger’ right back. I often become angry and judgmental when I feel someone is giving me unwanted or unwarranted advice.

In contrast, when someone shares their story with me, my response is drastically different. In sharing your story, you allow me to hear how you handled a difficult situation. In hearing that story, I am reminded of situations I’ve experienced that are similar. I am allowed the time needed to reflect on these situations and see how I could have handled them differently… better, perhaps. In essence, in sharing your story, you hold a mirror up to me and my own experiences. Research out of Princeton reveals that when people share their stories with another person their neurons actually mirror one another. Our brains will look for ways in which we can relate another’s story to our own lived experience (Stephens, Silbert, & Hasson, 2010). In doing so, the listener is given the space needed in which to reflect and grow.

Whether I am speaking with students, health care professionals, business executives, or my own children, it is stories that have the greatest impact…. and it is often the stories of ‘failure’ that have the greatest impact of all.*

*Look for the part two in the storytelling series, which focuses on learning from failure.


Stephens, G.J., Silbert, L.J., & Hasson, U. (2010). Speaker-listener neural coupling underlies successful communication. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 107(32), 14425-14430.