How We Learn Narratives

As you walk down the main street of your town, what do you see?

You may see people passing by, displaying a piece of their lives. Perhaps they are eating in a rush or looking in shop windows. Each person is carrying their own story along with them. Stories that seem to play out in their heads and through daily interaction with what is presented to them throughout the day. Every person you pass by is constructing a story of what is around them, trying to make coherent sense of actions around them and in their own life.

Sarbin calls this a “story-shaped world”. We create stories, whether real or fictional around us all the time. We constantly are trying to find coherence, and one way to do so is to construct a narrative that coincides with our worldview.

How We Construct Narratives

In Clark and Rossiter’s article Narrative Learning in Adulthood, they discuss scholars view on how we construct narratives in our own lives. We often are told narratives through cultural values, religious history, traditional rituals, as well as through movies and television. We constantly are being displayed a narrative that we have to somehow construct into our own understanding.

We learn narratives in our upbringing through the town we grew up in and the lessons we are taught as children. As we develop and experience life, we constantly reconstruct our idea of who we are. In part, narratives are the story of who we are as individuals and as a society.

Clark and Rossiter also reveal that,

At other times it’s a matter of constructing a narrative for ourselves that enables us to deal with an experience. An example here would be responding to an illness by constructing a narrative of restoration and hope, as opposed to a narrative of victimization, struggle, or loss. The choice of narrative—the sense we make of an experience—determines how we respond to and manage that experience.

Narratives help us adapt to new chapters in life, which gives us the ability to choose how we respond. When life throws challenges, it is experience and learning that guides us to a new place of self. It is the construction of a story of all the things we have been through that help us to our next chapter in life.


How We Adapt to Narratives

We learn how to adapt to narratives as we grow up, but also through our cultural background. If you come from an individualistic culture like the United States, chances are you have grown up with the understanding that the individual creates their own narrative, not the community around them.

Clark and Rossiter point out how Americans will look for power differentials and how culturally, their rights often weigh above responsibility to the community. If you grew up in a collectivistic culture, you are taught that the community creates the narrative. Your responsibility to your community is greater than your own individual decisions.

No matter what type of culture you have grown up in, the narrative will continue to shift as you create your own worldview. In today’s world, we have the opportunity to learn from the narratives around us, no matter how far across the world they are.

The Internet has opened many new possibilities to see into other understandings of the world. Whether that is through social media feeds, or through articles we encounter in the news. For many, it is the experiences abroad that teach us the most about shifting how we construct the narrative we have been living. Often referred to as a paradigm shift.

Narrative Learning

Narrative learning is not only about understanding the cultural story we have come from, but also our own understanding of we are. It is in our story of self that we learn to adapt, to change our perspective, and to understand the narrative we have been born into.

Narrative learning also coincides with experiential learning. Through experiences in life, we learn to create and re-create our story. Our own personal narrative plays a part in the societal narrative. In turn, this gives power that can be used for good, or bad.

How we live our lives effects those around us. How we write our narrative determines how we choose to interact with the world.

What Can We Learn From Narratives?

Every single day, you are creating your own narrative. From going to work to coming home, you interact with people each day that shifts how you are creating your own story. While some choose to be more introspective than others, we all are constructing our own narrative through conscious and sub-conscious understanding.

What can we learn from narratives you ask?

Stay tuned for the next article in the series…

bethany-jane-writes-the-narrative-series-3This blog is supported by the generosity of viewers like you. If you’re interested in this series, consider supporting Bethany Jane Writes through PayPal at

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One response to “How We Learn Narratives”

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