The Power of Stories

Marissa and Hannah Brandt have played hockey together their entire lives. These sisters grew up playing on the same team until they went off to different colleges, playing hockey then for their respective schools. And now they are playing for two different teams in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, with Hannah playing for Team USA and Marissa for the unified Korean team. Marissa was born in South Korea and was just four months old when she was adopted by an American couple, Greg and Robin Brandt from St. Paul, Minnesota. About the time of her adoption, the Brandts realized that they were expecting a baby, something they had previously thought impossible. Their daughter Hannah was born several months later, and so the two girls grew up together as beloved sisters, and both becoming outstanding hockey players.

While Marissa retired from hockey after college, Hannah continued to play and recently tried out and made the US Olympic women’s hockey team. A few weeks later Marissa, believe it or not, received a call inviting her to try out for the united Korea women’s hockey team. She accepted the invitation and made the team!  It was a dream come true for everyone. The Brandts had always wanted to make a family trip to Korea but had never even dreamed of visiting under these circumstances. Now they are all there together amazingly watching the sisters represent the countries of their births.

The broadcast of the Olympics, more than any other sports, share with us many of the backstories of the athletes who are competing. The stories help us to form a bond with the people being featured. Now we are not just watching hockey or luge; we have become part of the story of a person pursuing their dreams.

We work with many different organizations as a result of our Living Compass Wellness Initiative connections, often traveling to see the partners with whom we work. Organizations have stories, too, and so we always ask about how the organization we are visiting was formed and how it has changed through the years.  How has it adapted and been resilient? What are the unique challenges it faces today? How is its story intertwined with the story of the community in which it resides and serves? Stories are how we experience and convey meaning, purpose, and connection. If you want to know the essence of any person or organization, you simply need to know their foundational stories.

The same “getting to know you” process happens when any of us meets someone new. On numerous occasions I have had the experience where my initial judgment of someone has completely changed once I came to know their backstory, their founding story, so to speak.  When we are truly curious and honor another person’s story, especially when that person thinks and believes very differently than we do, we are getting to know them and taking an important step toward honoring their inherent worth. To live into this is one way we can each express one of the ideals of the Olympic charter: “to promote a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.”

The Olympics is much greater than a sports competition. This was made clear by the fact that twenty-four million Americans watched the Opening Ceremony, an event that did not include an athletic competition of any kind.  People were tuning in for something even greater than the thrill of sport.

We live in a world that is full of many divisions. None of us are naive enough to think that the Olympics will simply turn all those divisions into harmony. Perhaps though, the stories we hear about the athletes from around our world can remind us that coming together and deeply listening to the stories of people whose life experiences are dramatically different from our own, is one small step we can each take towards bridging the divisions that separate us.