The eternal power of the story

Dec 22, 2019 | 1 comment

On December 5, the first of a series of Canelazo Stories — an evening of storytelling — was held at La Guarida. It sold out within a few hours of being announced, which came as no surprise to me.

Old-fashion storytelling, the kind that is done person-to-person and before a live audience, has become quite popular again because it serves as an alternative, if not an outright rejection, of the anonymity and passionlessness of social media messaging and the notion that you can tell a story in 280 characters.

Good stories surprise us. They make us think and feel. They stick in our minds and help us remember ideas and concepts in a way that a Tweet, even a presidential one, never can.

Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world. It is the creative conversion of life itself fashioned into a more powerful, clearer, and meaningful experience. It is the currency of human contact.

All stories matter. And, as we have witnessed all too often, some stories are being used to dispossess and to malign innocent people for personal gain and recognition. Although this is a travesty that deserves our attention — and exposure — it in no way lessens stories’ elemental function to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a person. But stories can also repair that broken dignity. 

It is well worth noting that medical professionals have discovered only two techniques that have proven to help survivors of the Holocaust and the more recent mass-murders in the United States. Massage is one. Telling their story is the other.

We are, as a species, intrinsically tied to our storyline. When the body goes to sleep, the mind dreams up stories that it tells itself all night long.

Among the responsibilities of a storyteller is to move this ancient tradition that forms the basis of our history forward. Stories are how we learn. The progenitors of the world’s religions understood this, handing down great myths and legends, refined them at each telling and passing this body of oral tradition and primordial knowledge from generation to generation. They clearly understood that all history is is a series of stories, whether it be about the world or a single person or event.

Because there are natural storytelling urges and ability in all human beings, even just a little nurturing of this impulse can bring about astonishing and delightful results.

It has been suggested that expats probably have better stories to tell than homeys because of the hard decisions they made leading to moving to a foreign land, and the discoveries, many fresh and never considered, that permeate their new-found lives. But, I’m not so sure.

Cuenca writer Tom Larsen

Tom Larsen’s magnificent translations, Memo Rias Parro Quiales Rura Les, a collection of regional fables and myths handed down through generations by means of storytelling, offers a rare opportunity to understand the drama of not only how local tribal culture developed, but also the cautionary tales required to maintain a vibrant community.

One cannot overstate the important role that stories and storytellers have in our development. They remain crucial to our evolution and refinement, even more than opposable thumbs. Opposable thumbs let us hang on; the stories we learn teach us what to hang on to.

Stories aren’t just entertainment. They are all we have.

Robert Bradley

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