In this National Storytelling Week I imagine many of us have had it up to here with Stories. Instead of embracing the art we are backing away, never taking our eyes off the monster that has emerged from the manipulative, self-serving uses of Storytelling in past months.
Now that we’ve had the experience of being flagrantly lied to by politicians, we’ve had to come to grips with the concept of Alternative Facts and Post-Truth. We have been very effectively confused and bedazzled until we don’t know what is fact and what fiction. And facts themselves have lost ground – it’s commonplace now to mistrust Experts. In our personal echo chambers we would rather believe a story based on spin and unfounded opinion than face unpalatable truths.
You could say that the very currency of Storytelling has had the juice sucked out of it, as if by Dementors.
Storytelling has become contaminated. Actually it has always been capable of corruption – stories have been used historically to manipulate and coerce since time immemorial. Certainly within living memory by repressive regimes and not least by the tobacco and oil industries since the 1950s.
It has been ever thus – this ancient story explains why:
“Once upon a time TRUTH went about the streets as naked as the day she was born, calling out her message to anyone who would stop. But, strange to say, people blocked their ears and eyes and ran away as soon as they saw her coming. They shunned her and refused to let her into their homes.
She wandered, lonely and sad, from village, to town, to city, still hoping to find someone who would listen to her and embrace TRUTH with open arms. Rejected everywhere, she wandered into the woods, where she eventually began to hear noises of laughter and chatting, singing and applause. She came to a clearing and saw a great crowd of people gathered around a central figure, dressed in splendid, vibrantly-coloured clothes. People were hanging on his every word and even offering him dishes laden with delicious food. STORY lapped up their attention, basking in their love and appreciation.
Truth ran off, sobbing, to the edge of the woods. Eventually STORY came out to see what was going on.
TRUTH told STORY that nobody would listen to her and how sad and lonely she was.
Averting his eyes, STORY replied, “Of course they all reject you, no-one wants to look at the naked TRUTH.”
So STORY gave TRUTH a brilliant cloak to wear to cover her nakedness. And they walked out into the world together, TRUTH with STORY. And the people greeted them with warmth, love and appreciation, for TRUTH wrapped in STORY’s clothing is a beautiful thing and easy to behold.
And ever since then, TRUTH travels with STORY, and they are always accepted and loved. That’s the way it was and the way it is and the way it will always be.”
Recently it seems, TRUTH and STORY have become separated from each other. TRUTH has wandered off into the wilderness and is even less visible or appreciated than usual. And STORY has lost the anchor that tethers him to his integrity. He’s all over the place.
The way we can reclaim stories is to re-unite Truth and Story once more. We know how powerful stories are, with or without truth. Our very foundations, the bricks and mortar of our cultures and lives are built on Stories. But without Truth the foundations eventually crumble.
So should we try to avoid storytelling now and rely entirely on ‘facts’? On the unadulterated naked truth that storytelling transforms and makes so palatable?
Well – good luck with that one, because all facts, however they are presented, have already been edited and passed through the filter of the speaker’s mind. It’s unconscious storytelling, and offered without the spice of storytelling art that makes the facts engaging and memorable. We can’t avoid stories, then, so let’s reclaim them and use them consciously.
We can reclaim storytelling once more by being thoroughly awake to the stories that surround us, visible and subterranean, and by linking our storytelling to a strong, expanded purpose.
After all, Einstein said “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”
All great stories are fictions that reveal an underlying truth. We know it when we hear it. Like the parable, Story creates a way for us to be able to gain insight into Truth. Stories are not one-trick ponies – they are capable of holding ambiguities and polarities in a single structure. We need this – now more than ever.
Talk to us about our Storytelling for the Awake – relevant to leaders everywhere.