Get to Know Someone's Story
We all have a story worth reading. Let's stop shaming one another for these stories and, instead, help shed light on someone else's.
As a school librarian, I spend a lot of time classifying and categorizing books, determining where a book should live in order for students to find it. I attach genre stickers to book spines so kids can easily judge the type of story found inside the cover. I affix colored tape to the spine to help me quickly put books where they belong. I label entire shelves so kids can easily find the kind of books they like.
These are necessary tasks in a library—but let’s stop doing this to each other.
Let’s stop putting genre stickers on each other, as if we have a right to classify another person’s story and announce it to the world for easy judgement. Comedy, great. Adventure, fun. Horror, nope. Drug addict, hard pass.
Let’s stop color-coding people to tell them where we think they belong: addicts, you junkies get purple tape and live on the bottom shelf; felons, you losers get green tape and live on that shelf across the room far away from the good books; pretty people, you get yellow tape and live on the center shelf.
People are not so simple. You can’t put me on the librarian shelf and decide whether my story is worthy based on what you think you know about librarians. As a child of God, I am worthy. Full stop. My story is worthy. My sister’s story is troubled, and it is worthy. She is worthy. You can’t slap a “tragedy” sticker on her and shove her to the back of the addict shelf to be disregarded. You don’t get to shame her story. We must stop doing this to one another.
Many stories cross genre lines, which can make them difficult to categorize in a library. An adventure story might also be historical fiction, a sci-fi story might be heavy on romance. It is the same with people. Our stories can’t be defined by one label, one genre sticker. My sister was a drug addict, she was a felon; but she is also my parents’ daughter, my sons’ aunt, my sister. She struggled, but she came back stronger. There is not one sticker that can classify her story. Wait. Is shit-show a genre? How about badass?
Ignore the label, read the story.
It’s easy to get boxed in by what you think you like, to avoid stories outside your favorite genre. But I encourage you to open your mind to new characters, stories you never considered worthy of your time. Until I was about 40, I didn’t like sci-fi. Robots? I’m absolutely not doing it. You can’t make me. But then my boys introduced me to the Marvel Universe, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a big fan (and not just because of Thor and Captain America). These stories are not just sci-fi: they’re action, adventure, fantasy, comedy, romance, friendships. They are so much more than a label. Also because of my boys, I watched The Martian and Interstellar, both excellent stories in a genre I previously dismissed. So guess what. I like sci-fi! Who knew? Ignore the label, get to know the story.
Stories can surprise us and expand our understanding, if only we can look past the labels assigned by someone else. That guy you think is “just a junkie” might be a brilliant artist struggling to express the horrors of his past. That guy you see as “just an addict” is trying to numb the pain of his abuse, and he could use some help. The girl you see as disposable is loved by many people who will be gutted by her overdose. Ignore the label, read the story.
The Book Club sticker from Oprah or Reese does not guarantee that you’ll love a story. And the addict label does not negate the value of a person’s story. Ignore the label, read the story.
Where do our stories belong?
In the library, I have to consider where my patrons will most likely look for a book. Where does it belong? Where should I put it so the story gets the attention it deserves? Is it sci-fi or fantasy, adventure or mystery? In real life, people don’t live on shelves and we don’t get to tell them where they belong—where they are welcome, where they fit in. People are worthy of belonging everywhere, right now, just as they are, without stickers to assist in judgement or labels to justify their belonging.
Is my sister’s addiction more significant than her recovery? Does she only belong with other addicts? Is she welcome in the realm of the recovered? Does she fit in with the stories of people who never used drugs? Do I have to slap a “tragedy” sticker on her and hide her on the bottom shelf to make other people more comfortable? Or can I focus on her work as a recovery specialist and file her with other success stories on the feature display? Where does her story belong?
In the library, I create special displays to help certain books find love, to spotlight selected topics, to call attention to neglected books, to help kids discover a story they might otherwise consider unworthy. Let’s do this with each other. We all belong somewhere. All of us. And it’s not in the discard pile, waiting to be thrown away. It’s on the feature display, in the light, showcasing our gifts and our hearts. We all have a story worth reading.
Related video: Understanding Shame and Guilt
Written by Laura B. Demers, © 2020 Reclamation Sisters