I wrote a story about my Mom and I want to perform it in town, but my Mom lives here and she would cry if she heard it. Should I tell it anyway?
My first two thoughts are: a) of coarse and b) absolutely not.
a) Your best true, personal stories are usually about your deepest and richest relationships, because that is where your heart feels the best, worst and most of everything. You have to tell these stories even if they might hurt someone. Don’t hold back!
b) People come before stories. Your relationship with your Mom comes before a performance. If the people in your story would cry if they heard it, then don’t tell it in public. Please, restrain yourself.
Well, that might not be helpful. Here are some examples of how I handled stories that might hurt someone’s feelings.
First, I decide if the story is silly or meaningful.
A silly story is how my nosy neighbor used to run up to our car as the family pulled in the driveway any time we had been gone more than 24 hours because she had to know WHERE HAD WE BEEN!?!?!??
A meaningful story is how my relationship with my step-daughter is harder than I expected and sometimes I cry when I think about her for no reason.
Second, I decide if the story should be “private,” “semi-public” or “public.”
“Private” means I don’t publish or perform the story.
“Semi-public” means I take reasonable steps to ensure the person in the story doesn’t read or hear about the story. There is a lot of room for that in storytelling performances, for example, if the person doesn’t live in town and you don’t post the video on the Internet, you are good.
“Public” means that I don’t worry if the people involved read or hear the story. Publishing a blog post, loading the video to YouTube, it’s all good.
What this looks like in real life…
When I still lived next door to that nosy neighbor and when friends on my block might be at storytelling events, I kept the story semi-public. I told it in my small Toastmaster’s group and I didn’t post the video on the Internet. I didn’t want to take a chance on hurting my neighbor’s feelings for a silly story. But, when my neighbor moved away and time had passed, I included the story in this blog post about a story that might hurt someone’s feelings, because the chances of her reading this post are so small.
When I wrote a story about a big-time, throw-down fight with my step-daughter, I knew the story was meaningful to me. It reflected deep, confusing and painful feelings that I wanted to understand better, through writing the story. I wanted to perform the story, to share how I felt. As a writer and a performer, I can’t avoid the meaningful stories; I need to embrace them. But, how could I do that and be fair to my step-daughter?
I shared the story with my step-daughter first. We talked about it. She told me her version of the story, which, crazy as it sounds, was not the same as mine. The fight had happened several years before, so the emotions weren’t as raw. I asked her if it was all right if I performed the story in a local show. She said, “yes.” Austin Storytelling was setup to record video that night, but I kept the camera off during my story. It wasn’t fair to post this story on the Internet, where it might become part of my step-daughter’s digital life.
The answer to your question is C) maybe.
If a story might hurt someone’s feelings, I keep it private or semi-public. If semi-public, I share the story with that person first. If the story is about someone in my family and they don’t want me to share it, I don’t.
But, there are times when a meaningful story needs to be public, even if it hurts people’s feelings. If you were abused as a child or your husband cheated on you, you might need to tell the truth even though it hurts people. In extreme cases like this, you don’t need to share your story first or ask for permission.
Well, now there seems to be answers D), E) and F) too. There isn’t a flow chart that can define the right answer for every situation. You can think about it and maybe ask a few friends. You can imagine how it would feel to tell the story and how it would feel to have told the story, which are sometimes different. Then do what feels right to you, in kindness and in strength.
Dear Storie is a storytelling advice column written by Carol M. Ramsey, a writer and performer in Austin, Texas. If you have a question or if you are a storyteller who would like to write a guest post for this series, email email@example.com.