There are many different reasons why writers write, and we have various different goals we hope to achieve through our writing, but what we all have in common is that we are Storytellers. (And Storytellers, it turns out, have quite an eclectic ancestry: Modern storytellers are the descendants of an immense and ancient community of holy people, troubadours, bards, griots, cantadoras, cantors, traveling poets, bums, hags and crazy people. – Clarissa Pinkola Estés. Indeed!)
As long as there have been human beings, there have been stories. Stories are what separate us from the other life forms on our planet and make us human. To some extent, we ARE our stories, because we give meaning to our lives by telling stories that make sense of the past and that reveal our dreams and desires for the future.
As Storytellers, we have many important functions.
Storyteller as Community Builder
People take on the shapes of the songs and the stories that surround them, especially if they don’t have their own song. – Neil Gaiman,Anansi Boys
Our stories have the potential to build connections in a world where, despite all our technological advances, we are cut off from one another in the way that really matters. In stories, we can look at the world through eyes other than our own. Protagonists can live in a different country, different culture, a different time, even a different world.
This ability to step outside our own lives and into another’s ultimately changes us. It expands minds and hearts. It provides an opportunity for building bridges across superficial differences and divisions.
“You have yet to understand, my friends, that the shortest distance between a human being and Truth is a story.” – Anthony de Mello
Storyteller as Teacher
Stories live in your blood and bones, follow the seasons and light candles on the darkest night – every storyteller knows she or he is also a teacher. – Patti Davis
In our stories, we can share our insights into history, not just the dry, boring facts and figures, but what it must have been like to live in those times and in those places. We bring the past to life and we help modern readers to experience it, and, therefore, to remember it.
Not only that, we put forward ideas and values for readers to weigh up and see if they are a good fit as a way to live their own lives.
Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it. – Hannah Arendt.
The teaching function of the storyteller is a particularly important one. Our stories are going to touch hearts and minds, and those stories can strengthen and nourish. But stories also have the power to weaken and damage. So a Storyteller is a person of immense influence with a huge responsibility.
The Celtic people, for example, insisted that only the poets could be teachers. Why? I think it is because knowledge that is not passed through the heart is dangerous: it may lack wisdom; it may be a power trip; it may squelch life out of the learners. What if our educational systems were to insist that teachers be poets and storytellers and artists? What transformations would follow? – Mathew Fox
Storyteller as Healer
Stories differ from advice in that, once you get them, they become a fabric of your whole soul. That is why they heal you. – Alice Walker
Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. – Barry Lopez
To put it mildly, life isn’t easy. It has its moments of torment and suffering and almost unbearable heartache. As storytellers, we can dig deep into our own sorrows and fears and say, “This happened to me (or to my character) and this is one way to deal with the pain. And if I or my character can do it, you can do it, too. Don’t give up. The world needs you.”
We can heal through humour: what we can laugh at no longer holds power over us.
We can heal by reminding others that nothing lasts forever and that life can get better, that we have it within us to overcome all challenges that face us. Stories can teach us to never give up, and remind us that, as Neil Gaiman put it, “dragons can be beaten”, because whatever does not kill us can serve to make us stronger.
We cannot wish old feelings away nor do spiritual exercises for overcoming them until we have woven a healing story that transforms our previous life’s experience and gives meaning to whatever pain we have endured. – Joan Borysenko
Storyteller as Inspiration
Australian Aborigines say that the big stories – the stories worth telling and retelling, the ones in which you may find the meaning of your life – are forever stalking the right teller, sniffing and tracking like predators hunting their prey in the bush. – Robert Moss
Storytellers have the power to set their readers’ worlds alight, to share new ways of thinking about the world and about who we really are, inside and out. Storytellers place before their readers heroes to emulate, ways to move past difficulty and ways to relate to people.
Stories are hardwired into our brains; they show us how to live, they teach us, they entertain us, certainly, but they also bring us closer together, inspire us, change us, heal us.
So, if we have a story we yearn to share, let us honour it and nurture it, for we never know whose life it may touch and what changes it will bring about.
And that is the power and the magic of being a Storyteller.
I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. – Maya Angelou (1928-2014)