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Weaving Life Experience with Intergenrational Narratives


Dr. Binta Masani

The intergenerational passing on process enables older community members to communicate customs, thoughts, aspirations, and behaviors to young people (Harwood, 1998). It is this passing on of knowledge between mature and immature members of society that perpetuates human development and continuous renewal within communities. Spindler (1974) speaks about social systems and community members as connecting pieces for cultural transmission when he writes, “Belief systems of the culture support linkages, and the educational institutions and processes (schools, churches, initiation ceremonies, families) teach children” (p. 4). The social and moral aspects of initiation and puberty rites help children transition from being passive members to participatory members of their communities. Thus, social customs that involve youth initiation rites are customary practices among people from different countries.

Narratives presented through storytelling is an ancient method that has always served to bring people together and to stimulate creativity, wisdom and compassion. Every human culture (African, African American, Asian, Greek, Native American, and others) seems to create stories, sometimes using metaphors and parables, as a way of explaining and understanding the world. Leslie Silko in her essay, Landscape, History, and the Pueblo Imagination (1996) writes on the power of storytelling. The oral narrative or “story” became a medium in which complex Pueblo knowledge and belief was maintained. Whatever the event or the subject, the ancient people perceived the world and themselves within the world as part of an ancient continuous story composed of innumerable bundles of other stories(p. 887).

Thus, one of the greatest benefits of stories is that they give people places to feel intimate and means for connecting to the human experience. When people use story to build global communities, they speak a universal language that defies space and time and has the ability to unite human spirits (Atkinson, 1995). Story has incredible healing powers that seep into the souls of people who need to hear the voices of individuals who live outside their immediate environments. Robert McAfee Brown writes, “Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today” (Priebe, 2007, ¶ 6). Finding a common thread such as storytelling provides people from diverse backgrounds with a global platform, which can facilitate the transformation and sustainability of communities worldwide.

Storytelling has the potential to teach, heal, transform, and empower as people become more intimate by sharing ourselves through stories because “A life story is really the story of the soul of a person. The most powerful life story expresses the struggle of a soul” (Atkinson, 1995, p. 4). Writing from the soul connects stories to the human experience. This is true for writer and anthropologist, Zora Neale Hurston (1937/1987), who discovered voice when she developed her own unique form of storytelling. Hurston (1987) believed that all things had a time and place. She expressed her need to be free of unresolved story endings in this quote, “There are years that ask questions and years that answer” (p. 38). 

For some women, life represents a continuation of narratives, past and present that become endearing traditions handed down from generation to generation. By sharing their personal stories, women in this multi-media presentation bring to life the simple importance of narrative learning in promoting the renewal and continuation of life by-way of intergenerationality. Silko (1996) believes in the retelling of stories one is both connected to a continuum by being both an individual and one who is bonded to a much more complex system of interrelationships. She writes, “You are never the first to suffer a grave loss or profound humiliation. You are never the first, and you understand that you will probably not be the last to commit or be victimized by a repugnant act….”(p. 892).As a result of re-living their experiences through story, these women continue to function productively with a shared philosophy for passing on knowledge from generation to generation. Social activities built around informal gatherings, often provide groups of women (such as the women featured in this presentation) with the outlets needed to receive and cultivate knowledge about their culture, social expectations, and what it means to be a woman (Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, and Tarule, 1986).

Atkinson (1995) expands the realm of storytelling to include community life through spiritual connections when he writes, “Stories—those that have been told across generations, as well as our own—inform, inspire, teach, maintain moral codes, record events that become history…and clarify all aspects of life while healing and transforming” (p. 3). As younger and older women are given more opportunities to tell their stories honestly and openly, they learn valuable life skills (Barlett, 2001). Part of the challenge with getting multi-generations of women talking to each other, is what Pilcher (2001) argues is a fast-paced society where minimal opportunities exist for people to share their daily living experiences with each other intimately. Pilcher claims that contemporary societies do little if anything to encourage “honest talk” in human interactions; especially with those encounters involving opposite genders. When intergenerational conversations do take place between adolescent girls and women, there must be “real talk” (Belenky et al.). Storytelling and story sharing provide an informal communication mechanism to help bridge relationships between multi-generations of women. In this way, the use of narrative links generations of women together by providing a gateway for passing on personal and collective knowledge, empowerment and sustainability.  


Atkinson, R. (1995). The gift of stories: Practical and spiritual applications of autobiography, life stories, and personal mythmaking. 

           Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey.

Bartlett, J. (2001). Older women, personal narratives, and the power of sharing with adolescent girls [Electronic version]. Adult Span

           Journal, 3 (1), 32-47.

Belenky, M. F., Clinchy, B. M., Goldberger, N. R., & Tarule, J. M. (1986). Women’s ways of knowing: The development of self, voice, 

          and mind. New York: Basic Books, Inc.

Harwood, J. (1998). Young adult’s cognitive representations of intergenerational conversations [Electronic version]. Journal of Applied

          Communication Research, 28, 13-31.

Hurston, Z. N. (1937/1987). Their eyes were watching God. Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press

Pilcher, J.K. (2001). Engaging to transform: Hearing black women's voices. Qualitative Studies in Education, 14, (3), 283-303.

Priebe, S. (2007). A case for case studies. Retrieved September 15, 2007 from 


Silko, Leslie Marmon. (1996) Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit: Essays on Native American Life Today. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Spindler, G.D. (1974). From omnibus to linkages: Cultural transmission models. Council on Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 5, 1-6.

Part of this writing is taken from a published paper presented at the Hawaii International Conference on Education, Honolulu, HI 2009. All rights are reserved by Dr. Binta Masani. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this material may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without proper citation of the source or written permission from Dr. Binta Masani.

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