Influencing Values Through TLA, by Doug Lipman

In our society, “influencing values” brings up images of someone lecturing children on abstract concepts (e.g., “honesty,” “perseverance,” etc.).

values-of-futureIt turns out, though, that we learn values from our own experience. In workshops I do with organizations, I often ask, “Choose a value that is important to your work. How did you learn the importance of that value?”

In response, people almost always have at least one story of something that happened to them. Having told it, they continue, “After that happened, I realized that…” Rough examples of their stories might be:

  • The time my family cooperated to get something done, taught me the value of cooperation;
  • The time I lied taught me the value of honesty;
  • The time someone else was disrespectful to me, I learned the value of treating people with respect.

Prompting Value Changes

As we’ve seen, values grow out of specific experiences. We don’t learn them by prescription, but by construction: we build our values over time. If you want someone to change their values, then, you probably shouldn’t begin by arguing with them about why their values are wrong. Instead, you need to make sure that they have experiences – first-hand or vicarious – in which they are practicing those values and then, as a consequence, experiencing success.

Having had those experiences, they can realize at some point, “Yes, when I acted that way, things went better than when I didn’t. And, yes, that was an example of this value.” Initially, they may not realize it consciously, but in time they will begin to regard acting in accordance with that value as good, right, or worth the cost.

Imagined Experiences

Storytelling gives people imagined experiences. When I listen to your story of how treating someone disrespectfully caused painful results, I imagine a version of your experience. I see and hear things similar to what you saw and heard. I feel emotions similar to those that you felt.

If I tell a story that is about living out a value (or failing to live that value) then people imagine my experience, thus replicating that experience in their minds.

Embedded Values

Of course, the idea of telling stories about values is not, by any means, a new idea. Anyone who has thought seriously about language arts has probably realized that stories, songs, poems and more can reinforce certain values.

But have you considered this idea: The very process of telling stories reinforces certain values! In fact, the very process of participating in many language arts can do the same.

In a society where we see political debates in which people call each other names and shout each other down (only listening long enough to form a rejoinder) the value of open, delighted listening seems foreign and impractical, like some ideal from the distant past or from an impossible future.

But storytelling, for example, already gives people the experience of open, delighted listening! In every culture, people learn unconsciously to listen to stories differently from how they listen to explanations or exhortations. You might readily interrupt someone, for example, who is telling you their opinion about a political race. But if they are telling a story about their own experience, the unconscious rules of conversation change: you are expected to wait for the story to be over. Further, you listen, not so much to comprehend, but to imagine and feel.

Eight Values Embedded in the Processvalues-of-the-future

As it turns out, even the process of preparing a story to tell (discovering, developing, shaping, and practicing stories) can give people practice in certain values, as well.

I’ve made a list of eight values that, I believe, are potentially embedded in the process of learning and telling stories:

Group A: The Primacy of Connection

  • Value #1: The Power of Listening
  • Value #2: A Predisposition Toward Compassion
  • Value #3: The Importance of Relationships
  • Value #4: The Efficacy of Openness

Group B: Respect for Our Amazing Minds

  • Value #5: The Preciousness of Every Human Point of View
  • Value #6: The Universality of Human Potential
  • Value #7: The Whole Mind: Conceptual Thinking Plus Image Thinking
  • Value #8: Emotion’s Role in Thinking

Further, I suspect that most, if not all, of these values can be reinforced by numerous arts.

Process Shapes Values

As we have seen, conventionally we tend to think that values are taught by talking about them. Many of us have come to the deeper realization that we learn values primarily from experience, including the imagined experiences provided by the arts. I invite you to explore yet another layer, as well: experiencing the processes involved in an art form can also reinforce values.

And, as it turns out, the values embedded in certain artforms are values that can guide the transformation of our society—to one that is more just, less wasteful of our abilities,  and more supportive of the flourishing of every human.

Learn More!

If you’d like to learn more about how the very processes of storytelling reinforce these values—and might like to participate in describing how the process of other arts can do the same—there are two upcoming opportunities:

In 1970, Doug Lipman was a struggling teacher of troubled adolescents. He had given up connecting with them when one day, by accident, he found himelf telling them a story. They responded! Ever since, he has pursued the transformative power of storytelling.

Over the decades, Doug has coached hundreds of people on their storytelling, writing, and recordings. He is the author of three books on storytelling (Improving Your Storytelling, The Storytelling Coach, and Storytelling Games), scores of published articles, and over 150 issues of his own email newsletters, including “eTips from the Storytelling Coach (

A professional storyteller since 1976, Doug has performed and led workshops on three continents and led many online courses and webinars. His ongoing search for effective ways to teach the transformative power of storytelling has led to projects such as a new paradigm for coaching storytellers, an exploration of the seldom-noticed Hidden Storytelling Skills, and the pursuit of ways that storytelling and related arts can allow our true humanity to blossom.

“Topless in America” and Other Words to Speak to Healing From Cancer

Breast Cancer AwarenessDuring Breast Cancer Awareness month, several pieces have been circulating that speak to the power of words when it comes to deeply engaging with what it means to find a cure and/or healing.

Poet Nikky Finney’s astonishing poem, “Topless in America” tells the story of Paulette Leapheart, who walked topless (after a double mastectomy following her Stage 2 breast cancer diagnosis) with her daughter from Biloxi, Mississippi to Washington, D.C. summit. Listen to Finney read her potent poem and you can also see the poem transcribed here.

“Don’t Think Pink” published in Psychology Today by writer Harriet Lerner (author of The Dance of Anger) succinctly raises questions about how breast cancer prevention is portrayed in teddy bears and pink ribbons here. The TLA Network’s own Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg’s “Take Down the Bras and Really Work for a Cancer Cure” published in The Huffington Post looks at how the reality of saving lives gets muted into the illusion of saving breasts here.

In poetry and prose, out loud and on the page, these pieces — as well as many others (please share them in comments below) — aim us toward finding greater depth and healing.

Monologue to my Paternal Parent, by Janet Toone

Editor’s Note: As some of you may know, the TLA Network offers a Certification program. Chronicling TLA practice is a part of that process, which can be fulfilled by writing multiple pieces for the blog. This is the second piece by monologist Janet Toone.

As I previously mentioned, each TLA course I have taken has opened my eyes to the potential for healing with methods of expression I had not considered. I took the “Saturated Selfies: Intentional and Intense Photography and Writing” course taught by Angie Rivers. I really struggled with the technological requirements in that course. However, I was not long into it before the possibilities began to flood my mind. I found this combination of monologue and selfies to be particularly empowering.

(Yes this post relies only on the written description. I tried not to be too graphic with the descriptions but be aware the reading may be difficult for some.)

Complex Childhood Trauma, Decades Later


I’m taking a course on selfies. Yeah, I can hear your response, “What the #%$#$#@$% are selfies? Don’t you have any real work to do?”

There has been a lot of talk about narcissism in this course. I haven’t mentioned that I knew a true narcissist up close and personal. That secret is out now.

I went out to the funny farm where I took some selfies out in front of the 12 by 12 foot brooder house. I was glad it is still standing, bare weather beaten pine boards on the outside and no interior walls. The outhouse is gone but some of those memories of living in that building with no electricity and no running water still seem like yesterday.

One selfie was of me holding the leather harness strap you shaved down so it would give a more thorough lashing. I remember when I got the first lashing which left welts from my neck down to my knees because I dawdled on the quarter mile walk in from the school bus. I couldn’t sit down at school the next day. Someone must have noticed my pain, because two teachers took me in an office and looked at my backside. But it didn’t make any difference. That was before CPS.

Biff wouldn’t let me borrow the gun you used to shoot at and threaten to kill us with so I could take a selfie. He still has all of his pain stuffed inside. He believes that ignoring it is the best way to handle it. So instead, I took a selfie in front of the bullet holes where you shot through the inside wall of the last two room shack we lived in. What’s it been, 58 years ago you shot those particular holes in the wall?

I took a selfie in front of the latest sawmill. It still looks like the one you threatened to saw us through lengthwise when we couldn’t roll those huge pine logs down onto the sawmill carriage, with those peavey hooks that were longer than I was tall. I was the oldest kid there — and I was 8 or 9 years old.

My selfies at the funny farm were just a drop in the bucket. The actions I observed you participate in still fill me with revulsion and disgust. But I also feel sorry for you. I won’t bore you with that journey for now, except to say that I realize you were not only narcissistic, you were also psychotic and anti-social.

Last year, I read letters you wrote home to your parents during you military training and I realized you were disturbed before you ever entered the military. Your commanders evidently realized it too, which is probably why you never saw combat duty in the war.

I have spent a lot of time trying to comprehend and understand; partly because it was necessary for my healing process, but also because I keep wanting to make some kind of sense out of it all. You walked some dark cognitive paths that I have not the time to describe here. But I theorize you may also have been filled with fear — or was it paranoia? I realize that even if you were here, you would not be able or willing to discuss it.

Janet Toone is a certified counselor, writer, storyteller, and survivor of complex chronic childhood trauma. The combination of living decades with the effects of C-PTSD and finding treatment providers who could provide neither an understanding of the effects of complex chronic trauma nor a therapeutic framework for recovery and her work with dual diagnosis substance abusing adolescents, many of whom had experienced trauma, amplified her resolve to explore the therapeutic process for trauma recovery work.

She is particularly interested in the role of Transformative Language Arts and arts in general in providing guidelines to developing a safe environment to explore recovery needs, in developing resiliency in victims, and ultimately in providing narrative structure with the goal of creating and externalizing objective views of trauma experiences.

Her areas of focus and interest include complex chronic childhood trauma, child witnesses of trauma, victims of sexual assault, victims of domestic violence and intergenerational family trauma.