Honouring the storyteller's truth
Honouring the storyteller's truth
7 June 2021
In a recent group discussion on Zoom, we explored issues around seeing flaws in others and not in ourselves and the subsequent hypocrisy when judging and criticising others. This discussion was based on the Bible verses in Luke chapter 6, verses 37-45 (the passage is in full at the end of the article).
My thoughts went immediately to where I am proud to work – in the Salvos Doorways [emergency relief] service. This national service gives community members facing hardship a space to come and share their story and know it has been heard, that they are not alone in those hard times and that someone cares.
Often, the stories heard in this space are disturbing, but it is how it is to the storyteller. Seeing another’s story as their truth takes experience and skill, and this is done daily by the many Doorways workers who make up my Victoria South East team. This team often challenges me to accept others without judging or condemning who they are or their situations.
The community members who share their stories with us come from many different backgrounds. Some are asking for help for the first time, some for the 20th. Many are marginalised from society because of lifestyle choices; others face discrimination because of mental health issues; many are experiencing homelessness on the fringes of society or are living on the edge of a constant battle to avoid eviction and desolate poverty.
I am proud of how our Doorways team always accepts a community member’s story just as it is told – without judging or condemning the storyteller. Without first-hand experience of daily walking alongside community members, it is difficult to truly accept the hardships many in Australia face. The Doorways team knows that each story told is one of an individual’s hardship – and hardship is relative. A hardship for ‘Mary’ may be manageable by ‘Betty’, but that does not make ‘Mary’s’ hardship less real, less true or less worthy of help.
While my head and heart can honestly say it is not helpful to judge and criticise another’s story, I continually fall into the abyss of judging and criticising others. When reading Luke, I was reminded of one significant memory a few years ago when I struggled to understand someone’s version of events that had led to a dissolved working relationship. I had responded to their story with cynicism, scepticism, disbelief and dismissiveness. I only wanted to disprove their story and justify my own story.
This memory challenged me to admit I did not respect the storyteller in the heartfelt telling of their story. I was challenged to acknowledge that their story was told from their experiential understanding of their situation, loss, pain, hardship, and, therefore, truth. It was not my place to dispute the veracity of what I heard. It was not my place to ridicule or humiliate another’s story to disprove or minimise its significance and value to the storyteller. I was reminded that stories always come from the experience and perspective of an individual’s worldview and values.
The reading from Luke chapter 6, verses 37-45, reminded me again that I can never truly appreciate what another human faces if I judge them without first acknowledging my own shortcomings. If I judge their story as false and then criticise them for their story, I am, in truth, judging and condemning myself before God.
The words in Luke challenge me always to respect the storyteller. An individual’s story is theirs alone, and all I need to do is listen, hear, accept and honour the storyteller’s truth.
Major Anne Farquharson is a Salvation Army officer and Doorways regional manager in South East Victoria.
37“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” 39He also told them this parable: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit? 40The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher. 41“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 42How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
A Tree and Its Fruit
43“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44Each tree is recognised by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes or grapes from briers. 45A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.