Storytelling Has the Power to Bring People Together

Aug 15th, 2012 | By | Category: 24-1: Communicating Yesterday's Stories Today
By Steve Simundson

The power of storytelling has been shown throughout the ages.  Knowledge, customs and codes of moral conduct have been passed from one generation to the next through spoken stories long before the existence of the written word.  As cultures get absorbed, suppressed, or even eliminated we can potentially lose whole languages along with many of their stories.  I say the loss of these stories is leading us to a loss of humanity in general.

Each individual story is like a thread and the stories of a whole culture are like a block on a patchwork quilt.  The collective stories of all the cultures make a beautiful blanket.  The border and backing that hold it all together are the common themes in the stories that everyone can relate to, regardless of language barriers or having different customs.  If you lose a few threads, the blanket will still be quite functional, but how many is too many until it all unravels into rags, and how less appealing is a quilt with little variation?

While listening to several storytellers at Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Community College, I was reminded of how similar some of their stories were to ones I had heard growing up as the son of a Lutheran pastor.  The parables of the bible are very similar to many stories told by Native Americans to explain how things were created or how we should live.  Universal ideas of living in harmony with and helping each other resonate in many diverse cultures even though they may use different stories to come to the same conclusion. 

In that same manner, I have found the best teachers to be the best storytellers.  If a student is having a hard time understanding something, sometimes explaining it a different way helps get the basic idea conveyed.  For example, my biology professor helped us understand the basic functions of the various organelles within a cell by comparing it to a factory.  When put that way, it made it easier for us to remember which part of the cell performed what function within it.  Extremely complex scientific, mathematic or philosophic concepts might have to be explained several different ways until the theory is truly grasped.

Some of the most influential people throughout history have also been master storytellers.  The great thinkers of ancient Greece sat around in circles and told stories of how a civilized society should live.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. told stories of equality and social justice in such an eloquent and persistent way that it not only brought about change in laws but in the social consciousness.  Then there were those, like Adolf Hitler, that used their gift of storytelling to instill fear and hatred.  When one person tries to speak for everybody and only one side of the story is told repeatedly, great atrocities like the Holocaust can occur. 

Everybody’s story is as important as the next.  When people feel like they are not being heard, acknowledged or appreciated it can manifest itself in the form of depression or anger.  Some people merely quit telling their story out of fear or insecurity.  When groups of people’s stories are suppressed, protests or outright revolts can occur.

Storytelling has enormous power and it is my hope that it will be used to bring people together.  Many people are reverting back to simpler ways and traditions, like choosing organic foods or trying to lower their “carbon footprint.”  As more stories are stored on digital files and sent off into cyberspace I fear that the oral tradition may lose the influence it once had.   Many Native American communities are trying to get back to traditional practices and teachings.  The resurgence of storytelling is part of that movement and I hope it is a trend that continues in other cultures.  I also hope that the great quilt of stories is never finished, with each generation adding their own threads and patches.

Find similar:

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.