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Once upon a time, in a time of great change and uncertainty, in a land not very from here... this story was hijacked by a marketing company, and sold to a corporation that put it on reality TV and, something got lost.
Storytelling predates written language and includes forms of pictographs, dance, word and movement. Modern storytelling realises the importance of first giving space to hear the story of a person to enable trust and community-building, evening out a field before a decision-making process and as a natural practice for the health of any combination of people being together. It acts as a peacemaker and therefore preventative measure for conflicts, and restorative justice. Storytelling promotes intercultural comprehension, bypasses the analytical function of lists and facts and presents information is a way that allows a person to associate in connection to their own experience, is often more memorable and doesn’t prescribe how a person should respond to it. Stories tap into emotions and motivate people. “Storytelling describes the social and cultural activity of sharing stories, sometimes with improvisation, theatrics, or embellishment. Every culture has its own stories or narratives, which are shared as a means of entertainment, education, cultural preservation or instilling moral values. Crucial elements of stories and storytelling include plot, characters and narrative point of view.” (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Storytelling)
Justin is twenty-one, toes touching the earth, hands in his pockets as he lolls on a makeshift bench in a clearing. “Yeah! Got drunk!” The girl next to him knows it’s her turn, looks down, and then across to her left and mumbles, “I don’t have a story. Any stories…” The next girl looks blankly at the badge being passed around as a talking piece that has the number 18 written in it.
So what’s the purpose of telling stories, so what? Despite the fact that ‘stories’ are plastered into the very fabric of the average modern life with huge media outputs; advertising, films, TV, radio, books, newspapers, internet and social media etc; ‘Don’t have a story’ is a common theme that I hear in my work, particularly with young people. I shouldn’t have been surprised, this was me too as a teenager, not having much consideration that something as ordinary as my life was anything worth talking about other than with close friends. Even to think of it as ‘a story’, would seem alien.
Why? What happened?
I’m sitting in another clearing, away from ‘civilisation.’
“If you come back to the camp, we will treat you like a ghost, we won’t ‘see’ you unless you initiate the conversation. If you have to return early to end your fast, someone will be here to greet you, welcome you home.” The final quester left, the camp quiet for the next hours and in some in-between space, awaiting the stories to return. 14 youngers have gone out to fast for 24-hours, build their shelters and be with the mirror of nature. I’m here for them to return to, at any time if needed, be of the village that they left behind. Here to hear their stories and mirror them back in a way to say; I hear your story, I see you, I welcome your return. I contemplate my own life at that point. The shock and loss of the passing of my mother a few days before. The disagreement with my sister over a date for the funeral and the feeling of terror inside of being cut-off. I don’t think I’m in a story, this is life, and it hurts right now.
For several months I miss the irony and divine wisdom that life can bring. Even trained in such matters, and having almost a decade-and-a-half experience in circles, it didn’t dawn in me until I
was in a gathering of council community that I myself had endured a real ‘rite of passage’ and needed to tell my own story, be heard. I call on the men who know me, and am attended by eight of them. Held in a rare and very precious moment, my healing starts to return, the arc of my grieving no longer lost in the wilderness. I begin to come home to know I was not alone, hearing other stories and having mine mirrored back to me of things I had not seen of value, reminded that the real value of story isn’t the story itself, but the people who are there to hear it… And not just for the truly darkest or brightest moments.
“I went to the forest, I saw a beetle and watched it. It was beautiful, and a bright green… I fell asleep there but after half-an-hour, when I awoke, it was still there! Then it flew away!”
“There,” I said. “That’s a story, right there!”
“No it isn’t!” She replied indignantly.
In these few simple words I saw her beauty, childlike awe. That’s how her story connected me, because she re-lived it, unaware that she was telling a ‘story.’ A story doesn’t have to contain a blockbuster plot-line, it’s these ‘ordinary’ stories that count for me when I’m needing to hear how another man managed to deal with his wife’s third pregnancy and what the younger, expectant-of-first-child man might need to know, or how my friend marvelled at the significance of the beetle that was still there until she awoke, and then flew away.
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