There are times in our history that are marked in books, noted in lectures, and remembered for generations. These historical markers can be positive or negative, joyous or heart-wrenching, but all signal a time of profound change. Some events have divided our country while others have bound us together in an unshakeable union with a single-minded focus. Many more events are a combination of the two.

History doesn’t happen in a vacuum. While there is often a single event noted as the day which changed the course of history, all were preceded by smaller events. Like a series of breadcrumbs through the forest, these events include stories of mini triumphs or not-so-minor injustices from individuals and groups of people. These stories contain our common humanity, our best ideals and hopes for the future, and sometimes contain the worst aspects of human nature. Often, when faced with the latter, we find the strength to summon the best in ourselves and inspire others to do the same.

One way to affect change is to bear witness to events or resulting emotions about past events or those still unfolding. Bearing witness is telling, writing, or otherwise expressing our stories. Psychology Today describes bearing witness this way:

“Bearing witness is a term that, used in psychology, refers to sharing our experiences with others, most notably in the communication to others of traumatic experiences. Bearing witness is a valuable way to process an experience, to obtain empathy and support, to lighten our emotional load via sharing it with the witness, and to obtain catharsis.”

Bearing witness, telling your story, can occur in your living room or from a large stage. It can be penned longhand and sent to a trusted friend or chronicled in a book bound for worldwide distribution. It can be used as catharsis, but when used together with others stories, contain the power to do so much more.

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Often painful and sometimes risky, speaking out against injustice gives others permission to do the same. Like the spark of flame from one tree to the next in a sprawling fire, the transference of courage from one to the next grows a movement. As voices grow, understanding spreads, too.

Whether you are the spark or a tree in the forest, bear witness to the pain inside of you or the situation around you. Tell your story and be part of history.