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The Danger of 'War Stories'

Updated: Oct 11, 2023

Some of the best advice that I received at one point during 21 years of working in group homes was to not tell ‘war stories’ to new staff. This wisdom also applies to arts ministry. War stories are those that often start with the words, “Well, when I was…” or “Well, I remember when…”. They are what veterans find tempting to share with novices; supervisors with subordinates; mentors with protégés. To not share war stories was good counsel since they may be the result of an urge in the teller but do not meet a need in the listener. Further, exchanging war stories can also lead to a back-and-forth conversational one-upmanship. A better use of communication is to support, affirm and encourage those whom we train, mentor and lead. Put another way, war stories are about reference points. If the resulting reference point helps the listener to have a more balanced, healthy and realistic perspective, the sharing of a war story has been beneficial (even if such a recalibration is difficult for the listener). On the other hand, if the new reference point is detrimentally and destructively disheartening and deflating, the teller likely should have resisted the urge and shown more discernment.

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