SIDEBAR STORIES is a501(c)(3) organization dedicated to helping people find their own stories. Our goal is to add voices that often go unheard to the larger conversation as a way of shifting dominant social narratives. We want everyone to know that what we have lived through can make a difference.
We focus on the stories of "ordinary experts", those who know the score about current issues because they have personally experienced the impact of situations like immigration, mental health, incarceration, social and economic injustice, addiction,racial or gender bias, accessibility healthcare and education, aging, violence,bullying, etc.
Through experiential storytelling workshops, we teach a structure for discovering and telling meaningful,memorable and undeniable stories. We also train reflective arts teams to transform the storyteller’s own words into original music, written narrative,spoken word, visual art and drama to be presented in community events.
“Moral injury is the consequence of violations to our core moral convictions. Whatever is done is of such harm that it negates our moral expectations of ourselves and others. The shared moral covenant that sustains meaningful between individuals and their world is lost.” Jatrice Martel Gaiter
Moral injuries may occur because of your own failure to live up to what you believe is right (as in an accident that happened because you were texting while driving) or because of someone else’s failure to live up to what you believe to be fair and right (trauma from childhood physical or sexual abuse by an adult). Either way, an agreement or perception we hold (often unspoken and unwritten) about how to treat each other is broken.
When a moral injury takes place, our expectations about what is normal are upended. We no longer know what results to expect from of an action we could at one time count on to be predictable. The resulting insecurity breaks trust and weakens our motivation to live in a way that might otherwise be reasonable, just, and considerate. Moral injury is more than a loss of innocence. Social fabric is ripped apart and faith in each other is broken through the trauma of an act that violates social norms.
To some extent, we all live with moral injuries, because none of us lives up to our chosen moral and ethical standards completely. Others will readily violate our sensitivities about right and wrong because they don’t agree with where we draw the lines. Even using the language of "we" and "them" can cause a moral injury, depending on the description and attitude toward "them".
An early moral injury for me occurred while visiting a gospel quartet convention in Detroit when I was 8 years old. I had come to love the southern religious messages and harmonies. I was excited about seeing several of my musical heroes and staying up past my bedtime. Because my dad knew someone who knew someone, I was able to step onto the touring bus of a nationally famous group. Right after hearing them on stage singing with passion and hearing stories with real tears about the importance of serving God and their faith, I saw these men drinking too much alcohol and cursing. My conservative upbringing didn’t allow for any alcohol at all and I didn’t even understand all the cursing, but I knew it was contrary to the life they said publicly on stage.
I knew these men were not gods, but I assumed they lived next door to God. Once I felt betrayed, I lost my childhood dream of singing high tenor in a quartet or buying their next recording. Something in me was broken and didn’t work the way it used to. Maybe it needed to be broken for me to have a realistic view of the world, and maybe no harm was intended, but nevertheless, something got broke. When too many common expectations are brushed aside, or important social codes are violated that cause harm to myself or someone I care about, relationships weaken and I become suspicious. For some of that I can give thanks. For some of it, I still suffer.
This may be no more clear than what is happening in our current political climate. Public discourse, social media comments and talk at the dinner table sometime reach a degree of disrespect and expressions of hatred that threaten the unity of our nation or families. We once fought a civil war because of perceived moral injuries.
When told constructively, telling stories that describe moral injuries provide opportunity for us to place those injuries in the context of what is good, right, beautiful and just. It's when these things are not respected that moral injuries happen, so each injury is a reminder of what we know and long for most deeply. Each moral injury is an opportunity for us to come together in agreement about what matters the most. They allow the storyteller to point us toward solutions, compromise, understanding, resources and lessons that bind up and heal moral injuries.
A good story mends the fabric of human decency, justice, consideration, compassion and dignity. It restores healthy relationships where moral injuries have occurred. Let’s tell those stories.
Let's talk about collecting stories for your cause or organization by holding a storytelling workshop or performance in your area. Sidebar Stories is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in the greater Philadelphia area and will travel to gather stories anywhere in the world.