I have always believed in the power of story. That’s one of the reasons I’ve spent most of my life as a storyteller and now story-writer.
I’ve been thinking more about that over the past few weeks as I have talked with friends about the holidays they are celebrating based on their faith stories. I have heard family stories about Passover from my Jewish friends, Easter from my Christian friends, Ramadan from my Islamic friends, Akshaya Tritiya from my Hindu friends, Vesak from my Buddhist friends, the Sun Dance from my Lakota friends, and several more. Each one has helped me understand my friend and their family a bit better, and has reminded me of how much our faith-story defines who we are.
That, in turn, reminded me of just how difficult it will be to end the many divisions that exist today. Whether we are divided by religious issues, political issues, or any other issues, the source of the division usually comes down to the story we have chosen to build our lives around. People seem to be “wired” to resonate with “story”. I have seen it hundreds of times, both as a speaker and as one sitting in a crowd. There is that moment with the person speaking stops “talking”, and begins to tell a “story”. There is a physical response. The audience looks up, focuses their eyes, leans forward, and tunes in. It isn’t a conscious action. It happens when we are 2 years old and it happens when we are 82 years old. We, for some reason, respond to stories.
And, it seems to me, we have a hunger for story, at least for one particular story that we can pay most attention too, call our own, and use to help define who we are in the vast mix of people, and help identify others who share that story. Story gives us identity. Story helps us understand who we are, or who we want to be. Story unites us with others. And, unfortunately, story divides us from others as well.
Because of the power of story, those wanting to create a movement, or army, or to build power to control others, use story to do that. They find or create a story that clearly identifies those people who are right, and those people who are wrong. That story also insists that it is the only “true” story, and all others are not only false stories, but are the stories of the enemy. The great leaders throughout history, for good and for bad, have been good storytellers. They have identified a group of people who were having a difficult time, who might have been afraid, and created a story that explained why they were unhappy or afraid, blaming it on the stories of other people, making those other people the enemy. It works.
One of the fascinating things about story, to me, is that it has a way to disable logic. When we are pulled into a story, it bypasses our usual “thinking” processes and speaks directly our emotions. If we stop and think about the story we realize it is just a story. And, that is why the stories told by those intending to deceive include the point that things like “thinking”, “learning”, and “truth”, are all just part of the enemy’s story. The story trying to deceive insists that you do not think about it, do not question it, but simply listen and follow.
I am a storyteller. I believe in the power of story. My personal goal is to use that power to entertain, to give hope, to build unity instead of division. As I think of that, and the faith-stories of my friends, I am now going to say something that I know may upset a few of them because it goes against a part of their story.
My hope is that, someday, we will find how to tell and listen to a story that is bigger than any of the individual stories. My hope is that, someday, we will find and tell a story that honors all of the individual faith-stories, but speaks of an even greater story that values and cherishes each and every human life; every gender, every race, every ethnicity, every nationality, every religion, every living and breathing person, and asks those people to ask questions, to learn about each other, to be alert to those who are using story for their own ends, to look for the things that unite us rather than divide us. I am hoping for that story.
I believe in the power of story. I am a storyteller.