The inside – outside story

WL Randall's four types of story

I am three quarters through Geoff Mead’s new book Coming home to story, but I am enjoying every page of the stories and ideas that he so generously shares. I was not until now aware of the work of William Lowell Randal but Geoff on page 74 briefly introduces us to his work and it has stuck in my head for weeks now.

William Randall is part of the coordinating team at CIRN (The Centre for Interdisciplinary Research on Narrative) where he specialises in  narrative gerontology which is a root metaphor for the field of ageing which presupposes the idea that humans are not only storytellers but story-listeners and that they not only have a life-story but they are ‘stories’.

To cut a long story short Randall proposes that there are four types of story that influence our sense of self, life experience and play a major part in how we age. These are:

Existence – The outside story of everything that happens to us

Experience – The inside story or how we make sense and consciously and unconsciously select the events that have significance for us.

Expression – The inside out story that conveys our experience in story form

Impression – The outside in story of how what others say about us influences our sense of self.

Now I know “all models are wrong” but I find this a tremendously simple and useful way to understand and acknowledge the different perspectives of friends, family members and groups telling their stories in narrative workshops.

What particularly excites me is how this view coalesces with my long standing obsession with the work of Baron-Cohen on the autistic spectrum. Individuals that experience life as ‘systems’ will develop a self and an inside story devoid of the feelings and motivations of others. Those with an empathising view on the world will similarly be engulfed in an inside story populated with the misfortunes and life troubles of others. [interestingly certain religions suggest that getting too connected to anyone will have a detrimental effect on your life, but thats for another blog].

I think it also goes some way in explaining how communities form around an emergent sense of identity. The influence of those around us will obviously change our inside story. As we begin to share what we think is significant so the shared stories will influence our sense of self. As we have a shared existence, shared (significant) experiences will influence the way we express ourselves and leave an impression on others.

I also think this model goes some way to explaining the unrivaled benefits of SenseMaker®, for in capturing anecdotal fragments (the inside-out story) together with the intended significance (the inside story) of the storyteller may then, in quantity, reveal patterns that help make sense of all aspects (the self, the experiences or the significant) of the group(s) being studied.

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