Talking to Ourselves: Self-expression at the University of Edinburgh

Thursday 29 November saw Edinburgh’s Our SpeakEasy society ran its last ‘Story Slam’ event of 2018 in Teviot’s Lounge Bar. With mince pies and an open drinks tab, the event revolved around a theme – ‘Sparks’ – and the basic premise was that guests would place their name in a hat to be selected at random to come up on stage and share a story related, either figuratively or literally, to the theme. Topics ranged in tone from the inspirational to the comical, including a love story from Prague, a dog walker’s tale from New York and the experience of a dancer defying adversity in Pakistan. The only pre-requisite was that the stories shared had to be real, true, and directly about the person sharing it. This is crucial to the mission of Our SpeakEasy in its promotion of self-expression.

The aim of Our SpeakEasy’s Story Slams is to cut to the heart of human connection in today’s increasingly anonymous world. Contemporary society places far greater emphasis on discussing the lives of others than reflecting on our own. It became clear over the course of the evening, as more and more stories were shared, how important self-expression is in the midst of all this. We all too often create connections with others by talking about others, whether that is negatively or positively. Therefore it is a brave thing, to share something about oneself. It takes courage. To stand up with a microphone in a room full of strangers and offer something, whether it is humorous or melancholic in nature, makes us vulnerable. As humans, this seems to be something that we are deeply uncomfortable with. It seems to be a collective fear of ours to be placed at the mercy of the reactions of others. So we busy ourselves in conversations full of deflection. We are reluctant to give up a part of ourselves.

Our SpeakEasy committee member, George Jing, rather succinctly described the society’s main aim on Thursday night – self-expression via storytelling offers us the chance to ‘open the little door in our hearts’ that we lock away from others.  Gathering the confidence to share a personal story seems quite the healthy habit to adopt. In this sense, Our SpeakEasy’s events provide the perfect remedy to the increasingly apathetic, desensitised world we inhabit. They offer a chance to meet new people on more than a superficial level and offer a safe space in which to be moved by the experience of others. It allows us to tap into the full spectrum of human emotion – something we should strive to do more often.

Well-timed was this event in its proximity to Christmas, the time in which we give gifts to those we love. I have learnt from standing up and sharing a story of my own that the true value in the gifts we give lies in the thought behind them. Thinking and collecting our thoughts to present can be a difficult task, for some of us more so than others. The link between self-expression and mental health is a crucial one. Feeling comfortable in sharing our experiences and emotions is the greatest gift we can give to one another – to feel valued, understood and listened to. Let’s all go into 2019 a little kinder.


Image: Our SpeakEasy Society, University of Edinburgh.

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