I pull on my best (and only) Hollister t-shirt, cover my armpits in an unreasonable amount of Axe body spray, push my surfer hair to the side, and walk out of my room. Alexa and I had been "dating" for about two months, but tonight was the first night I would be speaking to her in person, in public. As 8th graders, attending the high school basketball game was a BIG deal. All of our friends will be there, but more importantly, my brother and all of his high school friends will be there.
I spot Alexa and text her to meet me behind the student section. I wanted to sit with her, but I definitely didn't want my brother and his friends to see us. I knew the minute he caught wind that I had a girlfriend, he would do whatever he could to embarrass me.
The game goes fine and all we have to do is make it through two sets of doors to have successfully avoided my brother and his goons for the evening. I grab Alexa's hand and we make a break for it. I make it through one set of double doors into the hallway outside the gym and as I reach the second set that led to the courtyard and my freedom, the crowd around me parts and I hear, "Ooooo Jason and his little girlfriend are holding hands." I lay my forehead against the glass of the door, groan, and turn around to address my brother.
"So have you guys kissed yet? Seems like the perfect time!" Almost as if they'd rehearsed it, my brothers friend begin chanting, "Kiss! Kiss! Kiss!" This is not how I imagined my first kiss going.
I turn to ask Alexa if she wants to go, and to my absolute horror, she's staring at me, eyes closed, lips puckered. The chorus grows as more people join the chant. I am convinced this is a horrible idea, but peer pressure submits my thoughts into action. A million thoughts race through my mind. How's my breathe? Do I meet her halfway? Do I grab her face? What if I miss?
I close my eyes and the voices around me become muffled. Realizing I'm a little far away, I go to take a step closer and manage to trip on absolutely nothing. With her eyes closed, Alexa never saw it coming. I lose my balance and head butt my 8th grade girlfriend right on the chin in front of my brother, his friends, and the gathered audience.
Alexa and I were never meant to be, so I wasn't devastated that she broke up with me. However, I was devastated by that experience. It wasn't the embarrassment of the moment, or even the head butt. It was the fact that I let the crowd win. I let other people dictate my actions. That night I told myself that I would never let peer pressure get the best of me again.
My goal in telling this story was not to teach you a lesson about peer pressure, although that is the lesson I learned. My goal was simple: to connect with you. Through a story, I hoped you felt the same things I felt that day outside the gymnasium attempting my first kiss.
Stories are a powerful medium that human beings have used to connect with one another for thousands of years. We've always know that stories help us connect with another, but it wasn't until recently that we had the science to back it up. A study led by neuroscientist Uri Hasson found that when a person is listening to a story, their brain activity begins to align with the brain of the story teller. The scientific term for this is "speaker-listener neural coupling."
Could you feel the self-confidence growing as Jason poured on Axe body spray? Were you as anxious as 8th grade Jason as he tried making his escape? Did you heart rate increase a little as the chants grew louder?
Stories are underutilized in our everyday lives. If we lack connection in social settings, try telling more stories. If we lack connection in our classrooms, try telling more stories. If we lack connection in our marriage, try telling more stories.
"What if I'm not a storyteller?" Here's the beautiful thing: we are all storytellers and we all have stories to tell.
If you want to connect with others, tell them a story.
At the end of every day, ask yourself, "If I had to tell someone a story from today, what would it be?"
What is one moment from the last month that changed how you see the world? (Even if it was just a slight change)
“We are all storytellers. We all live in a network of stories. There isn’t a stronger connection between people than storytelling.” - Jimmy Neil Smith, Director of the International Storytelling Center
If you feel like you're not ready to tell stories, remember that every story needs a listener.