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eTips from the Storytelling Coach - Number 10

Is Storytelling Still Important?

September, 2001

eTips is a free, monthly electronic newsletter from Doug Lipman. You can subscribe, unsubscribe, or read a more detailed description of the newsletter at the eTips page. You can also read the other back issues.

Here is eTips from the Storytelling Coach #10: Is Storytelling Still Important?

Contents

1) IS STORYTELLING STILL IMPORTANT?
Article about changing a story's meaning by adding episodes: <http://storydynamics.com/Articles/Storytelling_Concepts/midrash.html>.
2) WORKSHOP ANNOUNCEMENT: MINI-WORKSHOPS IN FOUR CITIES.
What happens in a mini-workshop: <http://storydynamics.com/services/workshops/mini.html>.
Details of individual mini-workshops: <http://storydynamics.com/Services/upcoming.html>.
3) WORKSHOP ANNOUNCEMENT: STORYTELLING COACHING AND COACHING COACHES - IN ONE WORKSHOP!
Details of Kentucky workshop: <http://storydynamics.com/Services/upcoming.html>.
Or email < >.

1) IS STORYTELLING STILL IMPORTANT?

It's an understandable reaction. A great tragedy happens, affecting the survival of thousands of people. Some storytellers - and other artists - say to themselves, "With so many suffering, my art seems unimportant."

But I believe that art is even more important in the aftermath of disaster. All forms of art can help us deal with shock, grief, and rage. Art can offer us perspective and even guidance.

Storytelling, furthermore, can speak directly to the issues of the day:

  • Listening to people's experiences and reactions helps them recover from trauma.
  • Telling the life stories of those who died preserves their memories.
  • Telling the stories of peoples targeted for "revenge" diminishes hatred.
  • Telling stories of non-violent response to violence offers us clear alternatives to the urge to respond to killing with more killing.

But there's a less-discussed aspect of the storytelling craft that I think is especially relevant for today: how the meaning of stories can be changed drastically by simple changes in narrative.

***Where Does The Story Start?***

Every action happens in a context. Our understanding of the context determines our interpretation of the action's meaning. In a story, the context of an action is provided in large measure by the episodes that precede it.

Consider a simple story: a dog bites a child. If this is the entire story, what is it is likely to mean to you? For most of us, the answer is something like, "The dog did something bad."

But what happens if we add another episode to the beginning of the same "story"? If the story begins with the child hurting the dog before the dog bites, for example, most of us would conclude, "The child did something bad."

On the other hand, suppose we added a different episode. What if the story began with the small child about to crawl into a deep well? Suddenly, the dog is the hero for biting - and saving the child's life!

When telling a story from history, different people will choose different episodes, thus creating stories with different meanings. When we communicate with people from other cultures, we can assume that they view current events in a different context than we do - that they associate different earlier events with the current ones.

***What a Story Evokes - for Different Folks***

In order to communicate successfully, then, we need to know what stories our listeners already have in their minds. We need to know which episodes are evoked for them by the story we tell.

Thus, as we join with the vast majority of the Arab world in attempting to prevent further acts of atrocity, our mutual goals will be greatly assisted if we have learned more about the stories in Arab minds.

For us in the U.S., for example, the word "Gihad" signifies a Muslim holy war, perhaps with overtones of terrorism. This term may even call up images of atrocities carried out by the extremist group "Islamic Gihad." For Muslims, the word means "struggle," and calls to mind the internal struggle against our baser impulses as well as armed resistance to forces that threaten Islam from the outside.

The term "Crusade," on the other hand, evokes for us a dedicated effort towards a worthy cause. But in the Islamic world, "Crusade" connotes a Christian holy war. In particular, Muslims are reminded of the European invasions of their lands in an attempt to force all Muslims from the city of Jerusalem.

More is at stake here than definitions. First, as our leaders attempt to communicate with us and with other peoples, they will be forced to choose which historical episodes their "stories" include. (For more on the "stories" that leaders create, see Howard Gardner's "Leading Minds" - reviewed in eTips #1.)

Second, we are all listeners to the "stories" told to us. Being aware of which episodes are invoked (or ignored) will help us distinguish constructive, clarifying stories from stories that attempt to steer us into destructive actions.

In either case, the storyteller's awareness of the power of adding (or omitting) episodes is much needed - now, more than ever!

For more about the effect of adding episodes to stories, see the article, "Midrash: The Key to Interpretation" at <http://storydynamics.com/Articles/Storytelling_Concepts/midrash.html>.

For more about "prior episodes" in the recent history of the Middle East, see the BBC article at <http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/middle_east/newsid_1552000/1552900.stm>.

2) WORKSHOP ANNOUNCEMENT: MINI-WORKSHOPS IN FOUR CITIES

This fall, you have a chance to experience mini-workshops in four different places. (Not sure what happens in a mini-workshop or if you'd be able to gain from it? Just email me back for more information, or go to <http://storydynamics.com/services/workshops/mini.html>.)

All mini-workshops cost $125 and last 4-5 hours. Each participant will be coached for 40 minutes. Here's the schedule:

  • Chicago (Burr Ridge), IL: Monday afternoon, October 1, 3-7pm [two openings]
  • Chicago (Glencoe), IL: Tuesday morning, October 2, 9:30am-2:00pm [two openings]
  • Jonesborough, TN: Thursday afternoon, October 4, 2-6pm [waiting list]
  • Jonesborough, TN: Tuesday afternoon, October 9, 1-5pm [one opening]
  • Atlanta, GA: Tuesday evening Oct 16 6-10pm [one opening]
  • Atlanta, GA: Wednesday morning Oct 17 9-1pm [one opening]
  • Boston: Tuesday, Oct 23 10am-3:30pm [one opening]
  • Boston: Wednesday evening, Oct 24 6pm-10pm [Waiting list]

3) WORKSHOP ANNOUNCEMENT: STORYTELLING COACHING AND COACHING COACHES - IN ONE WORKSHOP!

In the last issue of eTips, I reported on my only scheduled Coaching Coaches workshop for the next year (November 29-December 2, 2001, in Schenectady, NY. Email me for details.)

But since then, Mary Hamilton and Cynthia Changaris have arranged for Pam McGrath and me to offer a new concept in workshops. This coming January 2-4, in a beautiful riverside bed-and-breakfast on the Kentucky river, you will have the choice of getting coached purely on your storytelling - or of also being coached on your coaching. And get this: you won't even have to choose between these "tracks" until after the workshop has started and you have heard Pam and me present your options in detail. For more information, email me - or contact Cynthia at < >.

All the best,
Doug P. S., Email me for one or all of these, or view them on the web:

Article about changing a story's meaning by adding episodes:
<http://storydynamics.com/Articles/Storytelling_Concepts/midrash.html>.
What happens in a mini-workshop:
<http://storydynamics.com/services/workshops/mini.html>.
Details of individual mini-workshops:
<http://storydynamics.com/Services/upcoming.html>.
Details of Kentucky workshop:
<http://storydynamics.com/Services/upcoming.html>. Or email .

(To unsubscribe to this newsletter, just email me your request. No special format is needed, because a person will read your message, not a machine!)

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