SIDEBAR STORIES is a501(c)(3) organization dedicated to helping people find their own stories. Our goal is to add voices that often go unheard to the larger conversation as a way of shifting dominant social narratives. We want everyone to know that what we have lived through can make a difference.
We focus on the stories of "ordinary experts", those who know the score about current issues because they have personally experienced the impact of situations like immigration, mental health, incarceration, social and economic injustice, addiction,racial or gender bias, accessibility healthcare and education, aging, violence,bullying, etc.
Through experiential storytelling workshops, we teach a structure for discovering and telling meaningful,memorable and undeniable stories. We also train reflective arts teams to transform the storyteller’s own words into original music, written narrative,spoken word, visual art and drama to be presented in community events.
Known as the cuddle hormone or moral molecule, oxytocin is a peptide that acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain and a hormone in the bloodstream to create a mood of openness, bonding, loving attention and nurture. If we knew how to get oxytocin flowing when tell a story, we could encourage both the listener and storyteller the listener to drop their defenses and find common ground from the first word. We do.
Oxytocin is primarily a female reproductive hormone. It is created naturally when selecting a mate, during sexual activity, giving birth and nursing. Starting a story well is much like starting a relationship or life itself. A synthetic form of oxytocin is available as pitocin, sometimes used to induce labor. It is, however, hardly ethical or practical to inject every listener with pitocin so they will be open and receptive to a new story. Thankfully, there are other ways to induce a story-formed relationship between storyteller and listener.
Any act that displays trust toward another releases oxytocin in both men and women. Somebody might present the gift of a precious ring in proposing marriage. The ring says, “I’m willing and able to sacrifice for you. I’m treating you above other partners, I’m making an investment in you.” This act of trust generates the flow of oxytocin. Smaller acts of trust like a smile, sharing a secret, or making a promise do the same thing.
In storytelling, the act of trust that produces oxytocin is the sharing of POSSIBILITIES. This is an act of trust because it makes us vulnerable to entrust our dreams to another person. We are trusting that someone won’t stomp on our dreams or laugh at our aspirations. Sharing a possibility also sets the stage for empathy since most of us, bottom line, want the same basic things- safety, respect, opportunity, connection, beauty, truth. We may have different opinions about the best strategy for achieving these common hopes, but we can join with others in finding common ground around a shared desires.
So begin your story with a personal vision, anticipation, dream or hope of how the world can be a better place or how we can live with more joy and purpose. As a display of trust in your listener, the possibility you share is likely to start the flow of oxytocin. That flow begins immediately and floods the body with more trust, acceptance and desire to connect. The flow of oxytocin creates a safe space between you and the listener where more difficult, divisive, stressful or fearful parts of your story can be heard later on.
Paul Zak (The Moral Molecule, 2013) has been called the vampire economist because his initial area of study was economics and he takes blood samples of test subjects to measure the presence of oxytocin. His early research indicated a connection between oxytocin and trust. Few stories in life contain more trust, hope and possibility than a wedding. So Paul took blood samples before and after the wedding vows. If an expression of trust and possibility releases oxytocin, it should show up in the sacred promise of a moment like this. The results were undeniable. Not only did the bride and groom experience elevated levels of oxytocin, but all the wedding guests who witnessed the vows tested the same. They gave blood samples before and after the wedding as a wedding present to the bride who was absorbed in studying the neurobiology of trust.
Without voicing the shared hope for a possibility to come true, we are more likely to fight over differences in approach and method. It’s hard to break through implicit bias and natural suspicion of strangers unless we see in the other a commitment to the same goals I have. Starting with a shared possibility breaks the barriers and leaves us more open to listening. Finding shared possibilities isn’t that difficult since the deepest yearnings we all have come from basic shared human needs.
“Once upon a time,” is best followed by an oxytocin filled statement about the possibility of a rosy future. Good stories don’t continue for long that way, but this is where they begin. Start your story with a healthy dose of oxytocin by announcing a great possibility to build the best environment for whatever disappointments, difficulties and dangers come next.
Let's talk about collecting stories for your cause or organization by holding a storytelling workshop or performance in your area. Sidebar Stories is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in the greater Philadelphia area and will travel to gather stories anywhere in the world.