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Why We Share Our Personal Stories With Strangers

Mar 08 2024

Why We Share Our Personal Stories With Strangers

Alexei Navalny died February 16, 2024. Vladimir Putin and his regime’s official stance on Alexei Navalny’s death is that he died of natural causes. That is the official story but it is strongly denounced by most of the world. Navalny, who had already suffered poisoning at the hand of the Putin regime, returned to Russia with full awareness that he would not likely survive the incarceration that he knew he faced. He was incarcerated in an arctic penal colony and died for telling his truth, his story. Story sharing is untenable for Vladimir Putin and other authoritarians.

Silencing our stories is the policy and play book of authoritarians. Authoritarians depend on controlling the “TRUTH.” Sharing stories of lots of people makes an authoritarian’s story difficult to control and that is unacceptable to an authoritarian regime. Freedom of speech is one of the first things eliminated in a tyrannical regime. Intellectuals, artists, free thinkers are then, in turn, silenced.

An antidote to tyranny is freedom of expression. The free sharing of stories, thoughts,  ideas is what sustains a free society. Libraries full of books with a wide range of thought provoking ideas and information are crucial to democracy. The freedom to testify to our own truth, our own ideas, our own experience, is foundational to democracy.

Sharing your personal experiences can help others by letting them know that they are not alone, or giving them context from history for present experiences, or offering insights into ways to cope with difficult circumstances. But, more than that, our stories validate our existence. They empower us as human beings on this planet - they boldly say, “I was here, this is what I did and it matters.” Not only that, it is the bedrock of democracy. Our stories are treasure troves of democracy, of standing up and being counted, of being emboldened to the truth of one’s existence.

History Chip is built on the democracy of personal storytelling. It is a platform dedicated to the truth of ordinary stories, of ordinary lives. We are all special and all part of a democratic mass of humanity with the ability to speak out, to raise our voices, to vote, to not be cowed.

Alexei Navalny went home to a Russia that silences individual’s stories. Those stories threaten the collective story that Putin and other dictators require to maintain control and power. When you tell your stories, you are standing for truth, for the people, for democracy. Alexei Navalny’s death clarifies so painfully why our individual stories matter. Alexei died for the simple act of truth telling. His own truth telling was too much of a threat to Putin. Alexei’s story telling threatened Putin by undermining the story that Putin presents so carefully to the world. Putin cannot afford to have the people of Russia see the truth that Navalny told for fear that the Russian people might rise up and revolt against Putin. Putin might lose his power, his money and possibly his life. Truth is an existential threat to a dictator.

Telling your story may seem like a small thing. Like casting a vote seems like a small thing. But these small things are our opportunities to stand up for ourselves and they add up to big things. They embolden us, they give us confidence in truth, in our own experiences and our own perspectives. Losing the right to those small things seems unthinkable and yet it happens. In some places, you may even die for that small thing.

We share our personal stories with strangers because it binds us together in the pursuit of truth. It emboldens all of us as we remember the power of our story telling. So, as we participate in elections, as we listen to the news, as we hear about threats to democracy, or the power of voting, keep in mind that that simple act of voting in elections is important. But, telling your story, your many stories, does so much to preserve truth and democracy. Our stories bolster the truth. Our stories, our truth telling, honors and gives strength to the memory of those like Alexei Navalny who died for the simple act of telling his story, his truth. And our stories give us truth in history, truth in deciding who to vote for and what our friends and neighbors reality is like. Everyone has a backstory and knowing that story gives us greater compassion through understanding.

Your stories may be about what it’s like to farm soybeans in Ontario, and that story is your truth. It stands up for your nobility and your place in this world, what it is like for farmers in Ontario. No one in New Mexico or Argentina or Morocco or Paris will be able to tell that truth as you can. We believe Alexei Navalny would love to read your stories because they speak to your truth. Your story matters.

~Jean McGavin

Founder, History Chip