What is the power of story? Let me take you on a little journey to explore some of the ways it shows itself.
Who doesn’t love a good story? Our world is built on them; countless billions have been poured into creating stories on screen, with actors as the modern day bards, casting a spell over us as we watch, enthralled as their weave their tales in this modern medium.
The bards of old were magicians of the mind. Through the tools of their trade they could take their audiences out of time and space, just as modern day films do. But, the action happened in our minds eye, not across a giant screen. Each member of their captive audience would have seen, heard, smelt, felt and perhaps even tasted, a slightly different scenario as the tales unfolded, everyone adding their own unique spin.
Storytelling is in the midst of a renaissance as evidenced by festivals such as Settle Stories (my much loved, local, award winning treasure trove of stories). Not only are there festivals, all over the country storytelling clubs are popping up – social gatherings where you can go to listen to stories and share your own carefully crafted tales, honing your skills in front of a live audience.
We each have our own stories: what else is life if not a collection of tales bound together in the bindings of our flesh? Our stories are written in our bodies; often visible on our skin, hidden in the depths of our DNA. We carry our family stories with us there too: strange, mysterious, hidden stories, ones that we’re not necessarily aware of on a conscious level, but which form part of our psyche, and our genetic inheritance,nonetheless.
When we reach a certain age, these ancestral stories take on a greater importance. Sadly, we tend not to develop this desire to learn more until after the story keepers have shuffled off this mortal coil. We’re left to leaf through dusty old documents, and if we’re lucky, annotated photos, hoping to gather a sense of the lives they lived before we knew them as Mum, Dad, Grandma, Grandad, Aunty, Uncle.
Of course nowadays we have access to geneaology websites, which is a far less sneeze inducing way of going through old documents! They can be frustrating though as trails can end thanks to a typo, or worse, due to lost or none existent documents which could have given you a greater insight into aspects of an ancestor’s life. We’re left to fill in the imagined details; joining dots that may create an idea of a life that looks quite different from the one that was really lived.
But does it matter? Isn’t the beauty of a story what we ourselves take from it?
I’m an avider reader. Last year, having come late to the Outlander series, I ate the entire collection of books. As gloriously satisfying to the eyes as Jamie …. I mean, the series… is, the books, as they so often do, took the stories to a whole other level. It was one of the characters , Mr Willoughby, who inspired this post in the form of this quote:
‘A story told is a life lived. Once I tell it I have to let it go.’
Just sit with that for a little while, see what it brings up for you.
Once we share our own stories they start to lose their power over us. The act of speaking, or writing them, transfers them to another dimension. A dimension in which they gain another kind of power: the power to heal, not only ourselves, but others.
Until really quite recently, our individual stories have been kept locked within us. We rarely heard tales of the ordinary man, and less so the ordinary woman. Only the great and the (not necessarily) good were on offer to us in the form of memoirs and autobiographies. No wonder, as Plato said:
Those who tell the stories rule society.
Perhaps this is one reason why so many ‘ordinary’ people believe that their own stories hold no value.
Each person’s story has value! None of us have lived someone else’s life – we may have had similar experiences on the face of it, but we all bring our own perspective to bear on what happens to us.
To bring this back to a sensory perspective for a moment, we each have our own unique take on the world – we very literally see things differently to the person standing next to us, no matter that we may be looking at the same scene. We see, hear, smell, taste and feel our experiences through our own unique filters of perception. These are then all woven through the collection of memories we have stored in our minds and our cells, adding a splash of colour, or an underlying darkness to our life tapestry. Our stories are held in our DNA, waiting to be passed on to the next generation, or tied off if the thread ends with us.
Collectively there might be an overarching consensus, but that just means that the people who could shout loudest got to tell it their way. Other voices are often drowned out; their stories go untold or unheard. But what if the perspectives the quiet ones bring to the mix tell an entirely different story? One that has the power to change minds, to heal and make lives better?
One of the greatest gifts stories can offer is in their power to humanise the other. Our world is in flux right now, and stories are helping to create much needed change. The #metoo campaign took what was the story of many (most?) women, and refused to allow it to be drowned out by the overarching consensus. The collective ‘ME TOO!’ made people sit up and listen to stories that were shocking, but unfortunately oh so very ordinary. Stories help us to develop empathy. This, to me, is the super power of story.
As Umberto Eco so perfectly summed up:
The person who doesn’t read lives only one life. The reader lives 5000. Reading is immortality backwards.
I believe that goes for those who listen to stories too.
Every business guru worth their salt is trying to get across the power of story to businesses big and small. They understand the power of story to connect us. Story can enchant the mundane, and in the hands of a master wordsmith, can cast a glamour that draws us in, parting us from our hard earned cash, often ending in dashed hopes, and a reduced bank balance! Story requires then that we become discerning.
When we learn to listen carefully to story, we develop an ear for the subtext, the underlying rhythm. We learn to spot if we’re been taken down a path that isn’t quite what it seems. With experience we can learn to identify the wolf dressed up as granny, the beast who is really a prince. Some of the time at least for there are always plot twists that none of us saw coming! There will always be the beguiling tale that tricks us, leaving us feeling foolish for having fallen for such pretty deceptions. Stories can be tricksters.
More and more I’m noticing a trend for what are described as immersive experiences. It seems that our modern mind wants bigger and better ways of being taken out of ourselves. Whilst these sorts of experiences look very exciting, and are something I too seek to offer, be that through the Halloween parties I used to hold, my chocolate, drumming workshops or sensory work, you don’t need all the bells and whistles for a truly immersive experience, you just need a good story teller –though a crackling fire and darkness help enormously!
Stories are magical – they teleport us to places beyond time and space – I’m all about the magic! But that’s a story for another time.
Stories always come to an end. That ending may leave us feeling deeply satisfied or heartbreakingly bereft. We might hold off from reading the final book in a series because we don’t want it to end. We might beg a storyteller for ‘just one more’.
Stories keep us curious, they teach us about the world, but more importantly, they teach us about ourselves.
Stories can give us hope when we thought it had deserted us. They can give us a reason to go on, to live another day.
Stories save lives.
As the semi colon project says:
A semi colon is used when an author could’ve chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life.
A story cut short is a tragedy for us all.
The world needs more stories, please tell yours, you don’t know who needs to hear it.
That is the power of story.
If you would like to have this post read to you, just click play on the video below – I couldn’t fathom out how to edit just audio without paying a load of money for an editing app, so you’ve got a video of the shadows on my gong to accompany it! Also… yes, I said geneology not genealogy – red face!