When I took part in the year-long cohort with the Multifaith Storytelling Institute, we studied stories from folklore, sacred text and families. We explored the use of story as entertainment, mythology and ethical will. We deconstructed stories we had heard hundreds of times, analyzing their shape, message and motive.
We worked with various writing prompts (pivotal moments, great teachers, places we’d visited, etc.) to assemble short 10-minute stories which we would workshop in the room with others. The storyteller would stand and deliver their most engaging story and the group would provide feedback – one round of what they loved, and one round of “wishes” (what they thought would have made the story better).
Here’s an example of a story based on a pivotal moment in someone’s life (a moment that deeply affected them or changed their direction):
“When I was a child – around nine years old – I remember pulling a lightning bug from a jar. I slowly twisted off the rusty metal top and gently reached my hand inside. I was careful not to injure it, and when I was sure that it was enclosed in the palm of my hand, I withdrew my fist from the jar.
I sat with the firefly in my hand waiting for its magical properties to be transferred to me. Waiting for the magic to fill my bones. Waiting to feel it’s warmth and it’s glow. When I didn’t feel anything, I peeked inside my fist to make sure it was still there. Maybe it had escaped and flown away! But, there it was, slowly blinking in the palm of my sweaty little hand. I sat there for a few minutes more waiting to absorb its magical powers.
Eventually, I opened my fist. After crawling on my fingers for a bit, it flew off into the forest. I sat there as the reality sank in that I would not be receiving any magic that evening. I began to wonder if magic really existed in the world. I walked home, with a head full of doubts, through a world that looked just a little bit dimmer.”
Person 1: “I love the amount of detail – rusty metal top, sweaty little hand.”
Person 2: “I love the use of light language and how the world seemed dimmer at the end.”
Person 1: “I wish that we had known a little more about your beliefs in the beginning. Why did you believe that fireflies were magical? Why did you believe that power could be transferred to you? Did someone tell you that was true? Did you see it in a movie?”
Person 2: “I wish that you had used the same amount of detail on the setting as you did on the close-ups. I would have loved to know what color the sky was as you played – and how that color changed later.”
The ability to engage, enthrall and captivate the imaginations of our listeners is an ability that any great leader should practice. All parents, politicians, salespeople, performers and spiritual leaders know the power of a great story. It is within these stories that we may find and connect with ourselves and each other.