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Sure, storytelling is just a mode of communication. In that sense, it's free of content. Storytelling is a tool that can be used to spread lies and hatred as well as truth and love.
In spite of this, I believe that storytelling also tends to make us truer to our essential selves, in at least three ways. And the fourth way - still speculative - is the most interesting.
First, storytelling requires listening. When we are well listened to, our best thinking and deepest desires tend to come to the surface. Further, respect flows inherently from listening. The very act of listening to stories tends to foster cooperation.
Second, stories require us to suspend judgement for a while and rely on our imagination. This can open a safe hole in the conceptual armor that separates us from the world.
Third, storytelling helps us know people. It helps us imagine the struggles and triumphs of others. As Roz Bresnick-Perry says, "You can't hate people whose stories you know."
The net effect of all this, I believe, is that storytelling can change our attitudes.
I work with storytellers and storytelling enthusiasts across the United States and beyond. The folks who come to my intensive workshops tend to expect that humans are essentially good, that social ills can be ameliorated in time, that their own efforts are capable of producing long-term results. In short, they tend to be hopeful.
Is this just self-selection? I don't think so. I suspect that storytelling itself breeds such attitudes. In other words, hope is nurtured by respectful listening, development of the imagination, and recurrent experiences of the humanity of ourselves and others.
But is hope naive? Isn't reality harsh?
To be sure, some people seem hopeful who are merely attempting to ignore sorrow and injustice. But true hopefulness takes into account how bad things are - and looks for ways to make things better. Hope is the youngest daughter, aware that her two older sisters have already failed at at the quest, starting off to try it herself - not timidly, but boldly.
The great leaders of all times have found ways to engage hopefulness. The great accomplishments of humanity have depended on the attitude that, no matter the obstacles, success is eventually possible.
Are we paying enough attention to this?
The world and its problems can overwhelm us. Faced with violence, injustice, and greed, we can easily lose sight of our power to be significant. It's amazing that we eke out as much hopefulness as we do.
But imagine what would happen if we faced this issue head on. What if we could truly be as bold as Jack and persistent as Molly Whuppie? Would we be less hobbled by the internal voices of powerlessness? Could we learn from the stories of the past to become helpers to the heroes of the future?
To learn about a workshop that will use storytelling to strengthen our connection to hope, read on.
2) WORKSHOP ANNOUNCEMENT: Hope - a Storytelling Workshop
I'm trying an experiment this May. On the weekend of May 4-6, I'm bringing together folks who wish to be bold enough to face the issue of hope.
Hope can seem so fragile. I have sometimes been afraid to talk about it, for fear it would disappear.
Yet storytelling can help us forge a vision of the future as well as recover from the disappointments of the past.
Years ago, I began performing a song cycle about the Nazi concentration camp at Mauthausen, Austria. Each of the songs deals with an emotional response to such horror: grief, defiance, despair. But the most difficult emotion is the one that can only come after those other feelings: hope.
I ended the program by saying, "If those people - separated by barbed-wire from their loved ones and the world - could hope, then we can, too."
Years later, I'm ready to follow the full implications of that statement. I invite you to join me.
We'll meet in the natural beauty of the rural Connecticut countryside. We'll tell our stories, become allies in our struggles, and fight our way through to hope. We will dare to take this on, knowing we have the power of story on our side!
To read about some story-development experiences that led to this workshop (and the details of attending), go to Hope: A Storytelling Workshop - or ask me to email the article to you.
All the best,
P. S., Email me for one or both of these, or view them on the web: