My father was an Irishman with a quick wit, a joy for life, and a sense of story. He had a story for every situation any of us kids could find ourselves in. Generally, especially if we had transgressed, he chose to tell the story and leave us to think. My mom, on the other hand, thought that learning through stories was the best way to teach us about our religion. She chose to play records of Bible stories put to song. I still remember these “stories in tune” and find myself humming or singing them when hiking alone or in need of consoling myself. But, the best stories I remember were those told once the “funeral party” began (because in my family funerals are parties!). Inevitably, the older folks would start the tales. Us kids, we’d quietly gravitate to them and form the perimeter of the room. If we were silent, we heard tales of bravery, companionship, heartbreak, sympathy and much, much more. Stories were a way my family shared our past and hopes for the future. Today those stories nourish me, encourage me, and give me hope.
As an adult, telling a story became a more conscious choice for sowing an idea. In graduate school, one of my seminar classes was on using stories to calm a distressed student. One way to bring a student from emotional flooding to cognitive thought is to capture attention through an unexpected statement that leads into the story – a story that speaks of courage, resilience, or compassion in the face of setbacks or one that fosters empathy, humility, or friendship when feeling put upon. The key is to have the right resolution that encourages hope. I have seen this method work in the moment, and had students reuse the story in future play and writing activities.
Stories speak to the inner part of me. Great stories from our history enhance my awareness of time-honored human understandings. Personal stories offer me wisdom that deeply feed my soul. Stories show me a path to transforming painful or troubling experiences into new insights and new ways to meet the world. Stories, whether shared, heard, or built together with others, help me find my way in the world and discover how I am called to do my part in making the world a better place.