Quite often, when one listens attentively to a story, it becomes obvious that the tale seeks to do more than merely entertain. For the most part, stories also inform, affirm and educate.
Because stories easily carry multiple and pliable meanings for audiences, storytelling thus rises to the level of a tour de force in humanity’s desire to see good triumph over evil. Not surprisingly, a good story is recalled more accurately and for longer periods of time than the dry and impersonal recitation of facts and figures.
In a year that is best remembered for the uncertainty, loss and yearning that it embodied, good storytellers have, once more, become the purveyors of hope.
Author and story consultant, Robert McKee, has observed that, “when we want mood experiences, we go to concerts or museums. When we want meaningful emotional experience, we go to the storyteller.”
The well-known puppetry and animation company, Jim Henson Productions, buttresses this view by noting that, “when people told their past with stories, explained their present with stories, foretold the future with stories, the best place by the fire was kept for the storyteller.”
Good, well-told stories, in both personal and professional settings, have delivered people from the timid observance of uncertainty, sorrow and scars. For example, while encouraging young people to tell their stories in the “My Covid-19 Story” campaign, Unesco said the initiative is designed to engender positivity and hope.
The writer of the ‘Leader as Storyteller’, Paul Smith, notes that, “in any group, 40% will be predominantly visual learners who learn best from videos, diagrams or illustrations. A further 40% will be auditory, learning best through lessons and discussions. The remaining 20% are kinesthetic learners, who learn best by doing, experiencing or feeling. Storytelling has aspects that work for all three types.”
What further enriches and gives variety to storytelling is that everyone has a story to share about overcoming challenges, barriers and prejudices. There is, therefore, a need to create platforms to accommodate more stories that can contribute to, and inspire, major personal or professional life changes.
As loss of hope threatens to outsmart humanity at times, storytelling is a viable avenue for empowerment and encouragement in personal growth. It helps to restore a sense of identity while also building understanding, empathy, resilience and tenacity.
Psychologist Pamela Rutledge writes that, “stories are the common ground that allows people to communicate, overcome our defences and our differences. Stories are how we explain how things work, how we make decisions, how we understand our place in the world, create our identities, and define and teach social values.”
Storytelling acknowledges life, and especially this year, as a constant reminder of possibilities. People share tales, which recount both successful and unsuccessful struggles, recall episodes of turmoil and conflict, and critique the decisions that may change mindsets.
Professor of psychology, Jonathan Adler, agrees with those who say that everyone has a book inside of them: “life is incredibly complex, there are lots of things going on in our environment and in our lives at all times. We need to make meaning of it. The way we do that is by structuring our lives into stories.”
If one is still curious about which story to tell, Julie Beck’s teaser in The Atlantic newspaper may provide a useful starting point: “in order to have relationships, we’ve all had to tell little pieces of our stories.” Whether comical, riveting, or heart-rending, shared stories stir us up from the confines and stupor of indecision, gloom and despondency.