The Heart of Storytelling

I emerged from 2015IMG_1388 copy, blinking, after 3 months tucked away in a glorious bubble learning The Heart and Craft of storytelling.’  You might well ask ‘why so long?’ – and believe me, when you’ve been sharing 2 bathrooms between 12 people for a prolonged period of time I asked myself that many times! But the time flew by packed with learning.

While I’ve been advocating storytelling for authentic leadership for a long time, I feel so much better equipped to use and share the craft now. I learned how to find and express authority and lightness through voice and gesture; how to tell archetypal wonder tales, creation myths and autographical stories in order to create understanding and self -awareness.   But possibly the greatest lesson I learned was how critical ‘heart’ is to create shared meaning and generate powerful response.

Every Thursday in our Storytelling hut was performance night where we practiced our arts in front of residents of Emerson College, family, friends and well-disposed ‘outsiders’. Our audience would pile onto mammoth purple cushions and squashy settees with the latecomers relegated to hard chairs, and we would regale them with stories we’d learned that week and those we’d newly created. Our main purpose was to test our new skills – theirs to relax and enjoy.   By and large both expectations were satisfied.

However, one Thursday was different. Fired by the constant depressing news from ‘outside’, we decided to devote our penultimate performance day to raising money for refugees – victims of war. At first we weren’t really sure who we wanted to help, we just knew that we needed to express solidarity with fellow human beings who had lost so much. Then we heard from a friend about a boy washed up on Lesbos, fleeing for his life from Syria and desperate to study then go back and help his country. But he had broken his specs getting off the boat trying to reach dry land – imagine that those of us who don’t have good vision?   So we had our purpose, we asked people to help us raise enough money to get this boy new specs and we committed ourselves to finding a big audience and making our performances really count.

Students and audience of all different ages, nationalities and personalities came together to create, retell or simply hear stories of alienation, loss, compassion and redemption painted with images that made us laugh, cry and sigh as one.   The evening ended with a Norwegian peace poem, where each verse was read in a different language, Norwegian, Italian, Chinese, French English and sign language for the deaf. Students joined hands and sang – the audience sang – it was electric.

We raised more than enough for new specs– enough for many evening meals for a whole refugee camp in fact. Pondering afterwards we wondered what that boy would see with his new specs and what stories refugees might tell over their meals. Many in the audience went away telling us of their inspiration to do more in service of our shared humanity.

I will remember that evening forever, the joy it brought and the power it wrought. I have a strong intent to use my new skills and my awoken heart to break down cultural division and judgments and limiting assumptions about difference.

I ask you to hold me to it and if you do, I’ll tell you a story about Red the fox.…….






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