Why We Need Stories

The importance of human stories in assessing the impact of lockdown measures

Published  4 May 2021

Stories are the communal currency of humanity.”

-Tahir Shah

The primary aim of Collateral Global is to produce and consolidate high-quality research on the outcomes and effectiveness of COVID-19 pandemic mitigation policies. We want to understand–to help the world understand–what is happening both to us and around us. In addition to our research, we are introducing ‘Collateral Global: Human Stories’–original content devoted exclusively to elevating the stories of people from around the world. We intend to publish at least one new piece each week, exploring a wide array of experiences and perspectives.

As an organization primarily comprised of academics, our problem-solving strategies tend to be analytical. We research, collect data and use scientific methodologies to extract information via experimentation.

So it’s fair to ask:

Why is an academic research community, focused on precise and quantifiable data, concerned with publishing individual stories?

You’ve probably heard, ‘the plural of anecdote is not data’. While technically true, this does not mean that anecdotes have no value. Anecdotes and stories can help us see inside the data — to read between the lines, so to speak.

The data is essential, but so are the people behind it. The data is essential because of the people behind it.

Stories provide context, nuance, and compassion and help fill in the gaps that the data glosses over.

Stories help us understand and be understood

By listening to other people’s stories, we immerse ourselves in experiences and viewpoints that we may not have previously considered. We can gain wisdom, knowledge, and empathy when we see the world through our neighbour’s eyes. We acquire the capacity to relate to strangers, despite geographic and cultural differences.

The benefit is not solely for the reader. Sharing our own stories is cathartic and helps us feel heard. We are reminded that we matter. Understanding our fellow humans’ experiences, and feeling visible ourselves, is critical to our physical, mental, and social health. Those emotional connections humanize the data.

The emerging statistics can be grim, and it’s easy to become numb to suffering when dealing with such large-scale devastation.

Over the past year:

Those numbers become salient when we realize that each of these statistics represents a voice waiting to be heard. And we aim to elevate those voices.

Because they all matter, just as much as the data. They are the reason for gathering data.

Stories make information more accessible

The content we produce at Collateral Global is not just for scientists and scholars. We believe that all stakeholders deserve a seat at this table and that we must discuss SARS-CoV-2 policy measures as a global community. The ability to make sense of academic research is not universal and, without alternative methods of communication, important information remains inaccessible. Stories not only lend a voice to the voiceless by elevating narratives that would otherwise fall silent, but they can also improve science communication as a whole.

To that end, stories can

  • Improve comprehension
  • Increase engagement
  • Deepen understanding
  • Improve recall

For both the writer and the reader, stories can open doors to knowledge that would otherwise remain closed.

Stories help solve problems

We don’t always find answers in the numbers.

For example, data can show us that many economically compromised children suffer from food insecurity, even as schools continue to offer free meals while closed. But it’s only when we listen to the affected families’ stories that we can understand why the children continue to go hungry. Did their public transportation shut down? Is their neighbourhood too dangerous to risk traversing? Or is there a distribution problem, rendering the food inedible?

Stories help us synthesize information and figure out what to do with it. They allow us to explore what we did right, what we did wrong and can expose weaknesses in systems that we may not know exist.

Stories promote healing

While we need to quantify the second and third-order effects of pandemic mitigation measures and communicate those results effectively, we can’t lose sight of why we study them in the first place. The events of the past year have taken a heavy toll on humanity at large. Even in the best of times, we can struggle to make sense of our surroundings and the excessive uncertainty and confusion thrust upon us have led to anxiety and despair.

It is critical that we begin healing a traumatized global population and sharing stories can aid our ability to recover from our trauma.

They:

  • help us feel less isolated
  • foster connections
  • build community
  • facilitate engagement
  • validate feelings and experiences
  • promote empathy

We believe that it is essential that we inject some humanity into this conversation and that, through catharsis and empathy, we can recover together.

If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never been forgotten.”

-Rudyard Kipling

Our colleagues who study history will tell you that sharing stories is one of the most fundamentally human things we do. Their enduring presence in our lives demonstrates their necessity and value. From prehistoric cave paintings to Instagram posts in 2021, the practice of recounting events and experiences has enabled us to share knowledge, bridge cultural and geographic divides, and make meaning of our world.

Human history itself is a curated anthology of stories.

And while academic research is critical for quantifying the effects of historical events, stories help us gain a fuller, more empathic grasp of the data. In this time of global upheaval, we want to do all we can to promote understanding, make information accessible, and facilitate healing.

And we need your help.

To share these important stories with the world, we need you to share with us.

If you have a story to tell, please use our submission form to contact our writers and editors directly. Our hope is to hear from people all over the globe.

Not sure what to say? That’s okay. You’re welcome to use the following prompts to help organize your thoughts:

  • How have the pandemic and/or mitigation policies affected your life?
  • What is the most important thing you want people to know about your situation?
  • Is your experience unique, or are many people you know suffering in similar ways?
  • How have you coped?
  • What have you learned that could help others?

We want everyone to feel empowered in raising their voice. And while Collateral Global cannot publish every story, we will read each and every one. We also hope you will bookmark this page and return to read stories from people worldwide enduring different challenges.

  • Share the link.
  • Forward stories that resonate to your friends and family.
  • Engage us on social media.

Our backgrounds may be different. Our experiences may be different. Our cultures and values may be different. But the one thing that binds us all is our shared humanity.

And it’s our humanity that will carry us through.