The Tales we Tell

by Mallary Tenore Tarpley

Stories of serenity, hope, that keep us well


Photo taken by Don Holtz of National Geographic. 

As journalists, we’re often told we have to be objective. We’re advised not to get too close to our subject and to replace tears with stoic composures so as not to appear biased. Sometimes, though, we forget we’re not just journalists.

We’re humans.

We can’t pretend that everything is OK when really it’s not. So, we document what’s not OK. We reach for our notebooks, our cameras, our computer mouse, and start writing, snapping, clicking away.

I would think that when we document the world around us, we can’t help but include tidbits of our own experiences into the stories we tell. We may feel compelled to include the sadder details or memories, as so much of today’s news revolves around crime, death, war, etc.

But what about the happier stories? What about the stories of serenity, the stories of love, the stories of hope that often stem from the more tragic tales? These are the stories that can mend scars, broken hearts and open wounds.

In a recent “Writing Tools” column, Roy Peter Clark highlighted the need for stories about regeneration and hope. (

He writes:

“I once heard James Carey, the late scholar of journalism and culture, draw this analogy between journalism and psychiatry  (I quote him from memory): ‘When you go to a psychiatrist, he asks you to tell him a story. And he listens carefully to that story trying to hear the parts of the story that may be making you sick. His job is to help you tell another story about yourself, a story that will keep you well.’

Then he turned to journalism: ‘The stories journalists are telling about themselves these days are stories about degeneration and decay. Journalists need some new stories that will make them well, stories about hope and aspiration.’ ”

It may seem strange to think that as journalists we tell stories to “get well,” but it makes sense. Dan McAdams, professor of psychology and human development and social policy at Northwestern University has done some interesting research on this subject matter.

He found that the personal narratives of people’s lives change over time depending on such things as therapy, faith, romantic love, friendship, trauma and loss. Most recently, he has focused on “redemptive” stories that people  tell about themselves. To read more, check out McAdams’ bio:

What’s your story?