A few hours ago, I was at a family gathering celebrating my mother’s 80th birthday. In bringing the details of the evening together, my sister had requested that each of us come with a story of Mom, something from our experience that might show a different side of the this much-beloved matriarch: mother, grandmother and soon-to-be great-grandmother. As people in the room rose to tell their story, I began to make an interesting observation (well, I thought that it was interesting):
I think that the art of storytelling may be dying.
Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that appreciation for a well-crafted, well-told story is dying, but I do think that there may be a lack of knowledge, especially among our young people, about how stories work and how they differ from reporting events.
Most of what people stood up to deliver last evening could more accurately be classified as incident reports or specific, discrete memories. Many were funny, poignant and all of them resonated with our particular family context which was fine for this particular time and place. But, to me,storiesgo a couple of steps further.
First, stories are intentionally created events, crafted out of an awareness of the power of language to draw the listener in, engage them in a vivid and sensual tour of an event, and then send them back home, perhaps a little bit changed. Storytellers use words and figurative devices to paint memorable pictures that may or may not be real; stories always hold some kernel of truth in them.
Second, a powerful story, in the hands of a good storyteller, has the ability to use specific incidents and memories to draw us out of a particular context—this place and this time—to explore deeper and broader meaning. Good stories allow the listener and storyteller to walk around particular events and, together, ask the questions, “Who cares?” and “So What?”
There was a time when the entire body of knowledge and understanding possessed by human communities were held in the stories that they crafted, and the stories that they told. And while I really believe that our affinity for good stories is part of our DNA, we may be losing sight of the importance of teaching our young people how to create stories.
I don’t think it is a matter of a lack of the experiences with which to create good stories, but I do suspect that, in our drive for higher reading scores, we may be paying less attention these days to the art of writing good stories. Over the next couple of days, I would like to explore this a little further. In doing so, I would love to hear from educators, parents, storytellers and public speakers about the role that story creation plays in your life.
What do you think? Are we losing sight of the art of the story? How are you nurturing an awareness of the importance of story in your family? In your classroom? In your workspace?
Am I just not looking hard enough for the places where our young people are learning to tell powerful, meaningful and connective stories?