28 Mar


The Story

“The old castle, with its deep moat surrounding it, lay bathed in sunshine. Between the heavy walls and the edge of the moat there was a narrow strip of land covered by a whole forest of burdock plants. Their leaves were large and some of the stalks were so tall that a child could stand upright under them and imagine that he was in the middle of the wild and lonesome woods. Here a duck had built her nest. While she sat waiting for the eggs to hatch, she felt a little sorry for herself because it was taking so long and hardly anybody came to visit her. The other ducks preferred swimming in the moat to sitting under a dock leaf and gossiping.”

Interpretation of this part of the story

This passage humanizes the story, the old castle, the size of a child, all let us know that the story is about us, even the duck is humanized, therefore enabling us to understand that this is metaphor.  Ducks don’t feel sorry for themselves, they don’t gossip, humans do.  It is the start of a gorgeous story, which is full of detail and richly textured descriptions.

Resonance for us now

This story becomes a beautiful thing in it’s own right. It is also, quite a magical and mysterious phenomenon.  It contains hidden depths and meanings, which I hope to tease out over the next pages. It is a story for telling, re-telling, and especially for telling out loud.   The poetic rhythm of the words are suited to sitting round a fire, or being in a circle. It needs to be read and shared with others.

The content of the story is quite shocking on occasions, it is a dark tale, but it is relevant to everyone.  It is a story for grown ups as well as for children, it is about all of us. It is an ancient story and in those ancient stories they didn’t hold back from the truth. Those kinds of stories were told to everyone in the community and the children gained what they needed from hearing them. I believe there is no reason for us to protect children from stories of hardship and death. These stories have vital lessons built into them, and when we ‘artificially sweeten’ them they loose a huge amount of power and creativity.  Children intuitively don’t want such sweetened stories, they seek the real thing, and are very happy to be scared and impressed by stories.  They gain what they need at the relevant times during their lives.  Just like the rest of us.

Examples from near and far

There are too many to number here!

How can we use this?

On a personal level

Innate in us all is a storyteller.

Our genes are programmed to expect spending a large amount of the day being sociable and collaborating with others.  We are sociable beasts, seeking company and friendship.  However solitary we think we are, however self-reliant we believe ourselves to be, it is not intuitive.

*  We all need to practice telling stories, sharing them with others.

*  We all know stories that will fascinate and transfix other people by their telling.

They are our own stories.

*  We all need to tell our own stories, it is part of growing up, becoming mature.

The older you become the more important it is to share your story.  Not in an egotistic way, but as a service to others.

*  Not by believing that your experience is more important than anyone else’s, but knowing that the next generation needs to hear it, in order for them to be able transcend it, go beyond it.

*  When you are interested in becoming a storyteller, you also develop a love for language.  You expand and develop your vocabulary, and this helps to expand your mind.

*  All storytellers start by telling their stories to their peers.  Their peers are good barometers, they can detect bull shit, and they deal with the truth.

*  Once you have become a good peer storyteller, you can then become a good cross-generational storyteller.

If we are to become elders

You need to familiar with telling stories.  Practice makes perfect.

Tell stories to young children, they love wild and imaginative stuff.  You can do this anywhere and at anytime.

Tell stories to young adults and you have a very different challenge.  I tell stories on a regular basis to groups of teenagers, street wise, hardened, toughened individuals, and that is quite a challenge.  However, I tell those stories in the right circumstances, at night, round a campfire.  I tell them in a way which draws them in, makes them feel afraid, makes them laugh, makes them cry.  Something happens to a story when it is told at night in the open air.  I’ve told the Ugly Duckling many times round a fire, and it moves and shocks teenagers every time.

You need to have some good stories to tell in the first place, so read lots of stories.   Tell stories from different countries, from different traditions, they can come from so many different places.  You need to remember quite how powerful stories can be.  They can have an almost irresistible effect on people.  I once told a particularly powerful story to a group of teenage school children in Eastern Germany, just after the wall came down.  I told it to them so they could connect to the outside world, it came from South America, and to broaden their horizons.  At a certain point the story becomes so laden with emotion that everyone cries, this just is the way of that story, and I felt it would be useful for them to experience this communal grief.  I told the story, they cried, and then we moved through it.  I looked round the room at the end and checked that everyone was recovered, and suddenly realize that one of the teachers had been in the room with us, despite my requested for no teachers to be present.  I went to him and asked if he was alright, as I knew he must have cried, and this could have affected his relationship to the pupils.  He was at peace, he said it was the first time he had ever cried in front of his pupils, but he felt it had been important for them to see it affecting him as well.   Later, he said he came in because he wanted the challenge of sitting through the story and not crying, but he had failed!  Such is the power of storytelling.

As a storyteller you need to be flexible and adaptable.  You need to know when to not tell stories as well as when to change them, in order to keep people attentive. It’s a great skill, but it is one of the oldest and most innate of all our abilities.  The same applies to singing, or making music, or doing arts and crafts.  These are our basic tool kit for communication, they have been with us for thousands of years.  If you are a master of one or some of them, then you will always find friendship and a welcome even amongst total strangers.  Such is the power of being a storyteller.

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