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Have You Thanked a Storyteller Today?





photo of man being fed a piece of turkey

Thank a storyteller today!

Storytelling touches, shapes and enriches our lives at every level, from the individual to the community, the society, and even the survival of our species.

In honor of the Thanksgiving holiday (in the U.S.), let’s count some of the blessings that come to us from storytelling.

In this first installment, I list fifteen of the benefits of storytelling that relate, first, to our individual development (as children and as adults) and, second, to that precious human endeavor, communication.

Individual Development

Stories help us learn basic language skills. They help us learn to think. They even help us become a person.

1. Stories help children learn and enjoy language.

2. Stories, especially those with puzzles or mysteries, can help build critical and creative thinking skills.

3. Stories lead people to think causally. As a story shows, events are not self-contained. One event causes another.

4. Stories help people of all ages develop and enjoy our magnificent ability to imagine.

5. Stories help us develop our sense of self. In fact, many psychologists define the self as a kind of story we each create about who we are and how we behave. The stories we hear from others can serve as models for building such self-stories.

Proposed bumper sticker: “If you can make sense of your life, thank a storyteller.”

6. Stories can give us what we need emotionally and cognitively to survive.

“Without fantasy to give us hope, we cannot meet the adversities of life.” – Bruno Bettelheim

7. Perhaps because our self is a story we’ve created, we have a fundamental need to share our story. Telling it leads to a sense of satisfaction and hopefulness.

“Whatever life we have experienced, if we can tell our story to someone who listens, we find it easier to deal with our circumstances.” – Margaret Wheatley

“There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you.” – Zora Neale Hurston


Storytelling is a basic mode of communication. It fosters turn-taking, sharing of values, and much more.

At the most basic level, stories teach children the value of communication and the roles involved.

8. Stories foster closeness between teller and listener. And because even an infant can enjoy the sounds and rhythms of stories, they allow a child to participate in communication long before the child has acquired active language.

9. Because stories grab our attention and involve a clear distinction between the roles of teller and listener, stories help children learn to listen.

Stories help people to communicate…

10. Individual experience. Everyone benefits from learning what happened when they weren’t present.

11. Facts, which are most easily remembered when embedded in a story. They stick with you, partly because they are participatory: you create the images in your own mind.

“Besides the cherry tree incident, what events do you remember from the life of George Washington?”

12. Concepts, which are more easily understood when accompanied by a story. That’s why we say, “Could you give me an example, please?”

13. Lessons, which are made concrete in stories. Stories allow us to experience the emotional and other consequences of the actions of others.

14. Values, which are principles of action extracted from experience. As a result, the imagined experiences provided by stories allow listeners to come to their own conclusions about values to live by.

15. Stories help persuade. In the first place, stories stimulate listeners to imagine future outcomes, whether to be desired or avoided. Those imagined outcomes, in turn, gives listeners grounds for accepting your proposed course of action.

More to Come…

Let me know if you’re interested in hearing part 2 of this article, which will list fifteen ways that stories and storytelling assist us in building community, in building societies, and even in surviving as a species.


Here are some sources for the above ideas and quotations:

Useful websites:

The Advocacy Committee of the National Storytelling Network

Article by Margaret Wheatley, Listening as Healing

Article by Harlynne Geisler, Why Have Storytelling in the Schools?


Dan P. MacAdams, Stories We Live By

Zora Neale Hurston, Dust Tracks on a Road

Bruno Bettelheim, The Uses of Enchantment


Six years ago last month, I married Pam McGrath, who was then a seminary student. Naturally, I coached Pam on her coursework. I got to know some of her fellow students. In the process, I got an inside look at the education of future preachers.

Trusting the Story Vessel logo - a course for ministers

Trusting the Story Vessel - a course for ministers

Much of that education impressed me with its depth and completeness. But I was appalled to learn that, at many seminaries, future ministers get NO training in storytelling.

And, even when a beginning course on storytelling is offered, it’s necessarily just a first step on the road to realizing the potential power of storytelling in a minister’s life – especially in sermons.

For years, Pam said, “Doug, please offer instruction in storytelling, just for clergy. Ministers need it. They don’t realize how much easier it could be for them to get their meaning across!”

Well, at last I’m offering a telephone/online course in storytelling, just for ministers. It’s called:

TRUSTING THE STORY VESSEL: a course for ministers in inspiring, teaching, and commanding attention through storytelling.

If you give sermons, either as ordained clergy or as a lay preacher, give it a look:

Or do you know a preacher – whether beginning storyteller or beyond – who might be interested? If so, I’d appreciate your forwarding this message. I can even send you a link to a printable flier. But, don’t delay: the Thanksgiving (Early) Bird Special ends next week.

Yours in storytelling,


P.S., There’s a $150 discount for those who register online before November 25 (Thanksgiving Day). With your minister’s discount, you will pay just $147!

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