Narrative Humility: Sayantani DasGupta
Sayantani is a physican and writer, originally trained in pediatrics and public health, who is a faculty member in the Master’s Program in Narrative Medicine at Columbia University and the Graduate Program in Health Advocacy at Sarah Lawrence College. Sayantani teaches courses on illness and disability memoir, and narrative, health and social justice. She is a widely published and nationally recognized speaker on issues of narrative, health care, race, gender and medical education, and in 2012 was featured in Oprah Magazine in an article on Narrative Medicine – which she describes as the clinical and scholarly movement to find health care’s lost art of story-telling and story listening. She is the co-author of The Demon Slayers and Other Stories: Bengali Folktales, the author of a memoir about her education at Johns Hopkins, Her Own Medicine: A Woman’s Journey from Student to Doctor, and the co-editor of an award winning collection of women’s illness narratives, Stories of Illness and Healing: Women Write their Bodies.
Stories have always been at the heart of health and healing. Before fancy imaging equipment or lab tests in their metaphorical black bags, they had the ability to be present, to witness another human being’s life and death, suffering and joy. Narrative medicine is the clinical and scholarly movement to find health care’s lost art of storytelling and story listening. A narrative understanding of health care honors the ancient, storied heart of healing, while teaching those responding to stories—clinicians, therapists, family members, and advocates—how to go about the art of witnessing. Witnessing stories from a position of Narrative Humility acknowledges that stories of the ill are not objects in which to become ‘competent’ or master, but rather, dynamic entities that for healers to approach and engage with, while simultaneously remaining open to their ambiguity and contradiction, and engaging in constant self-evaluation and self-critique about issues like the witnesses role in the story, expectations of the story, responsibilities to the story, and identifications with the story. Narrative humility is a philosophy of listening which holds potential beyond health care as well, in any situation where more powerful individuals engage with stories of those who are socially, culturally or politically less powerful. It acknowledges that the listener — be that a clinician, reporter, policy maker, or teacher — must willingly place herself in a position of some transparency. The witness must not only see, but be seen, and by doing so, enable herself to see even more clearly.
Tags: art of storytelling, Columbia University, demon slayers, dynamic entities, Graduate school, Health advocacy, heart of healing, illness narratives, Johns Hopkins, Narrative, Narrative Medicine, oprah magazine, Sarah Lawrence College, Storytelling