Unleashing the Power of Story

with No Comments

2016-01-25 cd Unleashing the Power of StoryHow many of us have found our eyelids drooping while listening to a speaker going on and on with a string of facts or personal opinions?

In our sleep-deprived modern society, “bobbing-head syndrome” remains all too common.

When I lived in Japan long ago, I remember people telling me it was common for older men in lecture hall situations – including government chambers – to close their eyes because they were listening intently. These men were sages who were displaying their undisputed sagacity.

Yeah, right!

They were victims of bobbing-head syndrome. But reverence for the elderly meant not letting them lose face – even if they fell fast asleep!

But what happens when the speaker changes his or her tone and gets personal, with story?

It’s magic! Like a transfusion, a story wakes us up! We’re no longer being “talked to” but instead we’re being “drawn in.” We’re invited to take part in an adventure.

Most people like a good story. Many crave it.

Why CultureWeave is Grounded in Story

We’re designing CultureWeave to be all about story. Written stories. Digital and oral stories. Story sharing. Story-based training. And in time, story-based travel and a story-based marketplace.

A simple motivation is at play here. When we consider what we remember most from our childhood, from the many hours spent in school growing up, from our college experiences, from our travel and living abroad, from our work lives, from our times sitting in a church sanctuary, what do we remember most? Story!

Like the time in sixth grade when I was caught by my parents because I changed out of my dresses into pants and a t-shirt on my way to school, just so I could fit in. After well over a year of getting away with it! (There’s more to the story here, but you probably won’t forget reading this quick anecdote!)

Or the time our boat filled with 12 people capsized off the coast of small island in the Philippines – with many expensive cameras (including ours) and three people who didn’t know how to swim!

Or the moment in the swarmy heat of Shanghai, still slaying jet lag, when we almost lost our three kids on the subway because we got out and they didn’t. Without any cell phones.

Or…I could go on and on. And, I’m sure, so could you!

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou

So, how do you influence how people feel? Tell them a good story.

Why does Storytelling Work?

Here are 5 simple reasons:

1) We are emotional beings.

Even the most stoic amongst us has a soft spot. Story connects with something very deep in our psyche. We imagine ourselves in the protagonist’s role. We try to figure out how to overcome the obstacle. We imagine ourselves the glorious victor.

Neurological studies conducted by Dr. Paul J. Zak, director of the Center for Neuroeconomic Studies at Claremont Graduate University, point to a rise in chemical activity when story is at work.

Specifically, Dr. Zak’s studies and subsequent book, The Moral Molecule: How Trust Works, center around the neurochemical oxytocin. When the brain synthesizes oxytocin, his findings reveal, people become more trustworthy, generous, charitable and compassionate. Story moves us, triggering a rise in oxytocin. In some ways, stories actually make us better people.

2) Stories remind us we’re not alone.

When we hear or read a story, we identify with others and feel part of the bigger picture. Story is about connection – connecting with our hearts, and connecting with others.

Even a story about someone going through a deep, dark, emotionally isolated time summons up a sense of connection for us. We can remember when we were there, too.

3) Stories are not about telling, they’re about showing.

Back to the lecture hall. Or the church pew. Anyplace where we are being told xyz, how-to or a list of facts. Something clicks off when we go into “fact-absorption mode.” Dr. Zak would probably point to a drop in oxytocin levels as well.

Not too long ago, I conducted a training session for 15 people involved in a ministry I lead. I learned long ago that one person (in this case, me) standing up there speaking without encouraging engagement and interaction among the participants leads to glazed eyes real fast.

But what most stood out was when I showed two mini-dramas back-to-back. I had planned to show only one, but they were connected. After the first ended, everyone wanted to keep in the story.

Following the plot line, imagining ourselves as one of the characters – the story drew us in and showed us the principles we were covering. From this, we were able to extract points of discussion, leading to an eager and engaged group.

It proved a great way to end our three-hour training session; everyone left energized and empowered.

4) Stories allow us to escape the pressures of daily life.

As we step into a well-crafted story, we’re transported to a new world. If the story is fiction, we find ourselves swept away to the creative frontiers of the author’s mind. It proves an exhilarating, sometimes exhausting and even frightening experience.

What makes Lord of the Rings, The Narnia Chronicles and Harry Potter, among others, stories people return to again and again? Why do so many follow the Star Wars and Indiana Jones series? Why do Pixar’s movies capture our attention and fascination?

In all these and so many more, we go on an adventure, whether in the pages of a beloved book or together with others watching the big screen. We escape the burdens, distractions and responsibilities of this life for a stretch to enter into another world. Not only can it be fun, but it can also help us understand our own lives better. Which brings us to Point #5.

5) Stories present us with a moment of truth and offer us life lessons.

Powerful stories always have a moment when the protagonist is challenged and must overcome an obstacle (often him or herself) in order to move on, succeed, or achieve victory.

Sometimes it is an “aha” moment. We see something in a new light, from an angle previously obscure. We discover a new path. We become the hero of our own journey.

Often, too, the protagonist faces a moral dilemma, like when Bilbo must choose whether or not to let the ring control his heart and mind. We cheer when he or she makes the right choice, lament when he or she doesn’t. Through this, we discern our own moral compass – and confront our own moral shortcomings.

We learn what really matters to us and set our sights on taking the higher ground. The lessons we learn through story – whether fiction or narrative non-fiction – cannot be overstated.

Story helps you design your life for global good. It puts you in the middle of a grand international adventure and allows you to plot out how you will make an impact, how you will be that peacemaker and bridge builder. It lets you shine for good!

Enough with the head bobbing! We invite you to engage in global storytelling through StoryWeave and help us all learn and grow.


Let us know about experiences you’ve had with storytelling in the comments below. Or, better yet, tell us a story!


Image Credit: BonnyBBX on Pixabay, Creative Commons

Follow us!

Caroline DePalatis

Founder & Interculturalist at CultureWeave
Caroline DePalatis has worked in the field of international education and service for over 20 years. A graduate of Stanford University and the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, she's still doing much of what she was trained in: bringing people of the world together. A committed Christ-follower, Caroline longs to shine the Master Designer's awesome creativity expressed through the cultures, languages, peoples and places of our world. And then there's dark chocolate. Definitely a channel for intercultural communications!
Follow us!
Follow Caroline DePalatis:

Interculturalist

Caroline DePalatis has worked in the field of international education and service for over 20 years. A graduate of Stanford University and the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, she's still doing much of what she was trained in: bringing people of the world together. A committed Christ-follower, Caroline longs to shine the Master Designer's awesome creativity expressed through the cultures, languages, peoples and places of our world. And then there's dark chocolate. Definitely a channel for intercultural communications!