As Americans, we have many things that we don’t see eye to eye on. However, we tend to hold some values to be very important, which help us stay united as a country, no matter how much we fight within ourselves. We all value or freedom to speak out against something we think is wrong, our freedom to vote for who we want to represent in the government and the world, and our freedom to be whoever and whatever we want. But I believe that the reason that we can be united as a country like this boils down to a basic human instinct. We want to relate to other people, while we should still be unique in our own ways, we like the feeling of seeing or joining a group of people who are like ourselves, or to see that people who are looked at as huge celebrities are people too, just like us. In my opinion, the most crucial way we satisfy this need is through listening and by telling our stories. From Biographies to a chat over the phone, us Americans, along with the rest of humanity, seek to find things that we can use to connect with others, and in the book The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson, she uses this fact to excellently portray her message of the struggles of blacks moving from the to large, industrial northern cities.
The first text I think shows this value well is the documentary American Creed from PBS and Citizen Film forthcoming in 2018. In the documentary, many different people are interviewed about what their thoughts are on American values, creed, and just America as a whole. Each person comes from very different backgrounds, and this is shown as each is able to tell the stories of their upbringings at the start of their segment. I think the creators of the documentary do this to show the audience not only where their views are coming from, but to also show how they are real people just like us. A lot of documentaries will use this tool to help the audience relate with the people on screen, as people tend to care more about things if it is occurring to someone like them.
Telling our stories isn’t only to the benefit of others however. Sometimes the retelling of past events in our lives can help the us out as well. As Rachael Freed said in her Huffington Post article, “The Importance of Telling our Stories”, “We tell our stories to transform ourselves; to learn about our history and tell our experiences to transcend them; to use our stories to make a difference in our world; to broaden our perspective to see further than normal; to act beyond a story that may have imprisoned or enslaved us; to live more of our spiritual and earthly potential” (Freed). This, I think, is very meaningful, as it says many different way that we are able to help better ourselves by telling our stories to others, which is why I believe it is one of our core american values.
Finally, I would like to talk about how Wilkerson uses this american value to captivate her readers in the stories of the three african americans who chose to leave the south during the jim crow era. While Wilkerson’s goal is to tell the reader about the Great Migration (Period between 1915-1970 when blacks left the south for the north and west), one of the largest movements of people in american history, she knew that just throwing numbers at the readers would not be very effective. She chose to interview over one thousand people to give the reader a sense of how many people were affected by Jim Crow, while also focusing in on three people’s’ stories specifically. Wilkerson knows that we americans, and humans in general, like to relate to things in books, we like to see characters do everyday things that we also do, but that can be hard when talking about a movement of millions of people. She solves this problem by focusing on three people, all living and moving to different places, all leaving at different times, but who collectively embody the heart and soul of this accidental movement.
While all people like to see themselves in others, I think that this value is at the heart of what makes our country. We are accepting of others, as we try and look past what is on the outside, and try to find things about them that are just like us. And while we aren’t perfect, just like any other nation, I think that a lot of people try and do this everyday, and it’s what makes our country truly united.
American Creed. Citizen Film and PBS. 2018.
Freed, R. (2017). The Importance Of Telling Our Stories. [online] HuffPost. Available at: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/rachael-freed/legacy-telling-our-story_b_776195.html [Accessed 25 Oct. 2017].
Wilkerson, Isabel. The Warmth of Other Suns: the Epic Story of America’s Great Migration. Publisher Not Identified, 2016.
Why Stories Matter by Conor is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.