Why This World Needs Your Magic Stories More Than Ever
"There needs to be a bouquet of flowers in this gallery to balance the dark," my yoga teacher said to me.
She was referring to an art exhibit we were at together on the theme of war and poverty. I was in my mid-20s and doing an MA in Literature; was headstrong, arty, and fixed in my ideas. She was calm, in middle age as I am today, and radiated good sense (not, ahem, as I am today).
At the time I thought she was too positive and a bit woo woo (which we called New Age in those days). Did she not see the horror and desperation that this exhibit was communicating? Did all her downward facing dogs and meditations in Anjali Mudra shield her from the bitter truth of the world?
I had thought yoga was only for the yoga studio and that the big, bad world outside was somehow separate and in need of my finger-pointing lessons. In my world of dark politics and black clothes we were all basically screwed. Those in power had low ideals and huge amounts of cash from Big Oil, Big Pharma, and the world would eventually be destroyed as a result.
I still consider those issues deeply, yet today I view stories as the flowers my yoga teacher thought were so vital to our survival. Yes, war and poverty exist—big and small, and in every country. Everywhere. Yet it’s in telling and in being exposed to a wide range of stories that we will create a path forward.
Psst.... There’s a revolution afoot, and our stories will be there to guide us.
Many groups are doing calls for immigrants and people from cultures outside of the U.S. to tell their stories as a way to cut through bigotry and isolationism. Writers Resist is one organization that’s gathering a range of these stories.
“We hope our collective gift for storytelling and powerful imagery will infiltrate social streams and mindsets to create alternative and powerfully evocative storylines,” says Writers Resist in its call for stories about individuals whose lives have been changed by people immigrating to the United States.
No matter how different our views and experiences, we are all human. True stories put a face on experiences and make us see another person as human like us, not as other.
Stories are vehicles for social change.
Stories breed empathy and connections.
Sharing stories of hope and resilience cuts through polarization as they connect us to others even if we don’t necessarily agree with their politics. It's hard in this era of fake news to differentiate between what's true and real, and what’s just plain lies. Though the more stories we tell about our lived experiences, and the more diverse and inclusive they are, the more we’ll be able to differentiate between the real and the bogus.
What stories do you have to tell about your own experiences, about what’s important to you, or about how another person has changed you?
Here are two excerpts from the late Richard Wagamese's Embers, One Ojibway's Meditations related to stories and writing.
5 WAYS TO TELL STORIES THAT MAKE A LASTING IMPACT
1. If you run your own business, think about what story or stories you’re telling your audience about what you value. Write a list of 5-8 core values for your business such as creativity, caring for your community, creating a culture of belonging. Values that resonate with your core audience and propel you to do good in the world through your work.
2. Consider the words you use to tell stories and how using positive adjectives such as considerate, adventurous, courageous, or intuitive, reliable and sincere can create positive outcomes. This doesn’t mean getting all Pollyanna on people, rather when you’re communicating a challenging story, see if there’s a silver lining hidden somewhere. The words we use are powerful tools that can breed either hope (and as a result, often action) or despair. Choose your words with care.
3. When someone’s sharing their story, really listen to what they’re saying. Don’t look at your phone or think about what you’re going to say. Learning to listen is the first step to telling your own stories that will have an impact on others.
4. If you sell products or services, are there ways you can amp up your story so that it truly moves people? It is said that stories with emotional resonance, ones where you make the person feel something, are the most memorable. Review how you’re currently telling the story of your business and see how you can connect to your market in a truer more resonant fashion.
5. If you make art—whether that’s paintings, pottery, sonnets, suits of armour for mice—all these expressions are stories you’re telling people about what’s important to you. What message or story are you communicating through your art? What’s the metaphor? Your overarching message? Once you’re aware of what it is, you can get even better at relaying the story of what you’re about in a meaningful way.
Photo credit: Matheus Ferrero