Rewriting Our Negative Stories (Part One of Three)

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Context

Students attended a presentation by Alvin Law. Alvin was born without arms, due to a (now banned) prescription medication that his birth mother was given while pregnant. Alvin uses his story to challenge audiences to rewrite the negative stories they tell themselves—about themselves. For more information About Alvin, visit:  https://alvinlaw.com/about/

After the assembly, students responded to what they had heard, prompted by questions including:

One of Alvin’s many strengths is the way he gets us to think about how we view ourselves.  Comment on why it is so important to rethink and reevaluate the stories we tell ourselves. 

Comment on Alvin’s assertion that: “We all have obstacles in life. It is ultimately our attitude that determines whether they block our path to success or strengthen us on our journey.”

Define Privilege.  Describe, as many ways as you can think of and remember, the ways in which Alvin was, or could have been, disadvantaged by society.

Describe the ways that Alvin has shown perseverance and resilience throughout his life, despite his lack of privileges.

Alvin states that first impressions are important, but it’s the final impression that matters the most.  Did your impression of him change as the assembly progressed?

Was there anything else that surprised you about today’s presentation?

What are you still wondering about or thinking about, after today’s assembly?

The teacher then prompted students to write about their own stories:

Describe a “negative” story that you either currently tell yourself or have told yourself in your past.  For example, negative self-talk or negative stories sometimes sound like: “I can’t do this” or “I’ll never be that…”

After you describe this negative narrative, explain how can you reword that narrative so that you speak about yourself in a much more positive way?  You might want to think about what IS possible.

Finally, conclude your response with a connection to an “I can” statement that best fits, and explain why this “I can statement” can be connected and reflected on here. 

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Student Work Sample

Student One Response

Prompt: One of Alvin’s many strengths is the way he gets us to think about how we view ourselves. Comment on why it is so important to re-think and re-evaluate the stories we tell ourselves.

Student Response: Often, we tell ourselves things that simply aren’t true, which can be based on how we are feeling during the moment, on what we think of the subject, and perhaps even our history with the subject. While these are just a few factors that can influence a bad story that needs to be re-evaluated, they are certainly significant factors and do cloud our judgement. If we allow these things to make us think only one way, it can be dangerous for us. Sometimes, all we need to do is take a deep breath and re-think our situation. We can be feeling very sad at one point, but if we get out of that, we will be happier, but most importantly stronger as a human being.

Prompt: Comment on Alvin’s assertion that: “We all have obstacles in life. It is ultimately our attitude that determines whether they block our path to success or strengthen us on our journey.” Do you agree or disagree with this statement?  Why?

Student Response: I agree with this brief yet powerful statement. We often believe that the problem with a situation is our own strength and the difficulty of the situation. While sometimes we might be underhanded, it is our attitude that can guide us through the situation and conquer it. If we don’t believe that we can do something, it will be very hard for us to do it. If the situation is indeed impossible, it is usually only impossible at the time. Training and building up our skills to beat the situation will greatly help us do so. If we allow ourselves to have an attitude wanting to improve and carry out our plan, we can usually get through our everyday obstacles. While attitude won’t be the key to everything, it is definitely a great help.

Prompt: Define Privilege. Describe, in as many ways as you can think of and remember, the ways in which Alvin was, or could have been, disadvantaged by society.

Student Response: Privilege can be defined as a special right that is given to certain people. For example, having clean water, food, shelter, and even a loving family are all privileges. However, having privileged people will lead to having unprivileged people, people who are not taken seriously or treated fairly by society. Alvin, born without arms, is one of those people. In his presentation, he talked about being called a “freak” by other people and not being accepted. While name-calling and acceptance might not seem like the most important things to some people, nothing could be further from the truth. To tear down a person’s self-confidence is perhaps one of the most destructive things in life. When you make a person feel bad about being who they are, you revoke their privilege of being allowed to be what you choose to be. Through destroying his self-image, Alvin was disadvantaged by society.

Prompt: Describe the ways that Alvin has shown perseverance and resilience throughout his life, despite his lack of privilege.

Student Response: Many people, if put into Alvin’s unfortunate situation, would easily break under the obstacles of everyday life that come with having no arms. If they did not show the same perseverance and resilience as Alvin, they would certainly be unable to make it as far as he has. Not only has Alvin faced sever challenges with his own life, he must face being called “weird” by other people and being disadvantaged by society. He has so many difficulties in his life, yet he somehow makes it through to the other side and with a positive attitude. He was born to challenges of doing everyday tasks, but he is just another human being like the rest of us. It is Alvin’s perseverance that has gotten him through his hard times and into a future that has a good outlook for him.

Prompt: Alvin states that first impressions are important, but it’s the final impression that matters the most. Did your impression of Alvin change as the assembly progressed? Explain.

Student Response: Alvin pointed out at the beginning that we were almost like an “oil painting,” still and trying to not be disrespectful. This is clearly something that he has been dealing with for his entire life, if not being labelled as “weird.” I am almost embarrassed to say that almost everyone in the gym had the same first impression of him, but we did not want to point it out due to respect: he was abnormal because his arms never grew. Arms for the rest of us have seemed like a perfectly normal part of life, always accessible to us and making things easier. For us, it must seem impossible to live a life without such a useful tool. However, as Alvin lightened up the audience with jokes and stories, we began to see the other side of him. We began to see that he was a talented speaker and that he motivated us. He was not just a “weird” person who was so different from everyone else. He was a human being, just like the rest of us, who wanted to go on with his life. It was wrong to judge him based on a first impression. However, as he said, the final impression is what counts. I am sure that everyone had an extremely positive final impression of the speaker, as he brought up the energy and humour levels of the crowd.

Reflecting on the story I tell myself

Presentations and talking to new people have usually been a challenge for me. If I happen to know about it in advance, I will spend lots of time stressing about when the moment comes. I have told myself “I can’t present” or “I can’t talk to them and connect with them” multiple times in the past. I have believed that I will make myself look like a fool when I try to do something new. This negative mindset has existed for many parts of my life.

Even if I think that a task like I described is impossible, I am always able to do it in the end. I can dread it all the way until I do it, being afraid of showing a bad side of myself to other people. But every time I think this way, I only delay the inevitable. Rather than prepare more for what I am going to say, I hope that I do not have to say anything. When I do, however, relief washes over me every time. I don’t make myself look stupid, and if I do, I just go along with the crowd. I stress over such simple tasks, but I always must do it in the end.

Sometimes I just don’t think my ideas are important. This is part of not wanting to present or connect with new people. Perhaps I believe that my ideas will be laughed at, or already be known, or just seem incomprehensible to my audience. One “I can” statement that speaks from a positive and growth mindset is “I have valuable ideas to share.” This is something that I don’t often realize until I share them. As I grow with more and more experiences in life, I will hopefully also grow out of this shell that I trap myself in.

Reflecting on Personal Awareness and Responsibility

There are many “I can” statements to be recognized in terms of personal growth, especially after being inspired by a guest speaker today, such as Alvin. If Alvin were looking at our Core Competencies in the areas of Personal Awareness and Responsibility, he might be able to say:

  • I can recognize my value and advocate for my rights
  • I take responsibility for my choices, my actions, and my achievements
  • I can set priorities; implement, monitor, and adjust a plan; and assess the results
  • I take responsibility for my learning, seeking help as I need it
  • I use strategies for working toward a healthy and balanced lifestyle, for dealing with emotional challenges, and for finding peace in stressful times
  • I know how to find the social support I need
  • I have valuable ideas to share
  • I can imagine and work toward change in myself and in the world
  • I can identify my strengths and limits, find internal motivation, and act on opportunities for self-growth
  • I am aware of my personal journey and reflect on my experiences as a way of enhancing my well-being and dealing with challenges
  • I can advocate for myself in stressful situations

Profile Analysis

Personal Awareness and Responsibility

PROFILE FOUR
I can recognize my strengths and take responsibility for using strategies to focus, manage stress, and accomplish my goals.

I advocate for myself and my ideas; I accept myself. I am willing to engage with ideas or information that is challenging for me. I can be focused and determined. I can set realistic goals, use strategies to accomplish them, and persevere with challenging tasks. I can tell when I am becoming angry, upset, or frustrated, and I have strategies to calm myself.  I can make choices that benefit my well-being and keep me safe in the communities I belong to.

Social Awareness and Responsibility

PROFILE FIVE
I recognize my value and advocate for my rights. I take responsibility for my choices, my actions, and my achievements.

I have valuable ideas to share. I am willing to explore controversial issues, and I can imagine and work toward change in myself and in the world. I can set priorities; implement, monitor, and adjust a plan; and assess the results. I take responsibility for my learning, seeking help as I need it. I use strategies for working toward a healthy and balanced lifestyle, for dealing with emotional challenges, and for finding peace in stressful times. I know how to find the social support I need.

Social Awareness and Responsibility

PROFILE FIVE
I can advocate and take action for my communities and the natural world. I expect to make a difference.

I am aware of how others may feel and take steps to help them feel included. I maintain relationships with people from different generations. I work to make positive change in the communities I belong to and the natural environment. I can clarify problems or issues, generate multiple strategies, weigh consequences, compromise to meet the needs of others, and evaluate actions. I value differences; I appreciate that each person has unique gifts. I use respectful and inclusive language and behaviour, including in social media. I can advocate for others.

Social Awareness and Responsibility

PROFILE SIX
I can initiate positive, sustainable change for others and the environment

I build and sustain positive relationships with diverse people, including people from different generations. I show empathy for others and adjust my behaviour to accommodate their needs. I advocate and take thoughtful actions to influence positive, sustainable change in my communities and in the natural world. I can analyze complex social or environmental issues from multiple perspectives and understand how I am situated in types of privilege. I act to support diversity and defend human rights and can identify how diversity is beneficial for the communities I belong to.