by Finn Tuyet Trinh
Columns of semi-bleached paper lined against the mahogany bookshelf in my room. Round loops carry each page into the next as I ask questions about who I am, what I am doing and what can I do next?
Throughout my past five years at Ryerson, I have been learning what my story is and how to tell it. Every year I was getting exposed to different ideas in the world around social issues, the state of being an adult and how to find some joy in the university experience.
In my first year of the social work program I was introduced to something called narrative therapy. When opportunities are created for people to voice their experiences they can be validated, meet with similar minds and begin to work their stories in ways that reveal their strengths.
Telling my own story seemed like a daunting idea. My past experiences were loaded with guilt and shame. When good things happened, I dismissed it as luck or chance without identifying my agency in the story. As I’ve been acknowledging my actions their impacts start to take weight and value. This wasn’t always easy. For a long time, I believed that I had no power or strengths.
The other day I went to the red filled Tri-Mentoring office and spoke with my former supervisor there. He lent me a text titled “You’re More Powerful Thank You Think” by Eric Liu. Throughout the pages, I was reminded that power is an infinite resource we generate and exchange amongst each other. Liu mentions that we give away our power when we are not participating. He continues to say that our selves do not exist in isolation but, there is always a social context prevalent.
Psychologist Martin Seligman has done research on learned helplessness. This concept describes a behaviour people learn through constantly enduring aversive and unavoidable stimuli. As society begins to amplify the voices of activists, I’ve become more aware of the power struggles in society. My worries and doubts fester as violence and poverty continue to disproportionally affect people living on the intersections of class, race, sexuality and gender.
I believe that telling our stories can challenge this learned helplessness, generate power in ourselves and to the communities of people surrounding us. It allows us to reflect on our experiences to acknowledge the incredible things we do every day. Telling our stories allows us to put our voices out there. The poet Nancy Pagh has taught me that people write to find a connection. We generate power by building each other up and reminding ourselves that we are not alone. There are collectives behind us, friends, chosen/blood family and people we have yet to meet.
As the Spring rain bounces against the window and my allspice candle burns, I hope you will try and make time to tell your story. It will always reach someone. Maybe it’s a friend or a stranger. It could even be you.