The other day the wife had an appointment with the granddaughters at the local bookstore in the big city . . . it was for the weekly children’s story time. It is an especially big hit with the two-and-a-half year old granddaughter who loves stories . . . plus, let’s be honest, the cookie afterwards. As the wife was entering into the children’s section of the bookstore the two-and-a-half year old spotted her, threw her arms up and wide, proclaiming in a loud voice: “Nana! Look at all of these stories!”
Of course my granddaughter is a Wobegon kid . . . above average . . . and, she continues to amaze me with her innocent wisdom about the world that revolves around her . . . especially in a bookstore. In her words she revealed something that few of us ever think about . . . those hundreds, thousands, and maybe millions of stories found in all of those books. Until the wife shared the story, I had never really given much thought about what all those books represented . . . but, she is right. She was surrounded by stories and by her enthusiasm I am certain she was game to hear each and every one.
The world is filled with stories . . . everyone has a story to tell. There are stories all around us . . . we are surrounded by stories. And, everyone loves a good story. I know that I do.
But, there is problem. It has been said that we have lost the stories, lost the storytellers, and the art of storytelling. I know that I have said this over the years . . . lamented the idea that stories and storytelling were dead. There seems to be plenty of evidence to support this idea about the death of stories and storytelling. Long before there was any form of technology, people and families gathered around the fire to listen to stories . . . it was in the storytelling that tradition, history, and life lessons were passed on to each generation. Eventually the fire was replaced by the radio as the place to gather to hear stories . . . radio was a wonderful substitute for the fire as it provided entertainment, stories, history, and life lessons . . . plus, music (which can be stories set to music). But then came movies and television, there were less words and more images used to tell the stories . . . it was storytelling with a different medium . . . and, granted, there have been some wonderful stories shared through the medium of movies and television. Now it has progressed to even more technological forms of sharing stories . . . Facebook, Instagram, Twitter . . . just to name a few. Stories are being told in single images and 44-word tweets. It is not the storytelling of our grandparents or great-grandparents . . . gone are the fires and the radios. Storytelling is gone . . . replaced with what? Social media?
Well, the stories are still out there. There are still people out there telling stories. As they say, there is more than one way to skin a cat . . . and, there is more than one way to tell a story. I imagine that technology has only added another dimension to the art of storytelling. I have seen some wonderful stories told through the gift of technology from people of all ages . . . no words spoken, images shared, a powerful message given. As my granddaughter said, “. . . look at all these stories!” The stories are out there . . . all around us . . . so, why do we think that the art of storytelling and storytellers are dead?
As I said earlier, I used to believe that . . . but, not any more. I know that the stories are still out there. I know that there are storytellers. They are all around us like the air we breathe. The problem is not with a lack of stories or storytellers; no, it is in the fact that we have forgotten how to listen. We have forgotten how to listen and we long for the intimacy that we once had when we gathered around the fire to hear stories.
Think about it. There is not a whole lot of intimacy . . . a whole lot of human touch . . . when we sit in a movie theater or our living rooms watching a movie in darkness . . . when we plug in our headphones and listen to music by ourselves . . . we shove our faces to our computer screens and cruise the Internet through all that social media that is supposed to bring us closer. It is not the same as sitting in front of a fire or grandpa’s chair to hear a story . . . there is no human touch . . . no intimacy. This lack of intimacy is becoming a problem in our advancing technological age . . . we miss the human touch.
Yet, good old fashion storytelling is making a comeback . . . even in this technological age. I give to you three examples.
First example: National Public Radio (NPR). National Public Radio is more popular now than it has ever been thanks to the fact that it has brought back the art of storytelling. National Public Radio has made its mark and created its audience through the sharing of stories . . . even their news is shared in simple storytelling. Among the most popular programs on NPR are All Things Considered, Story Corps, and Prairie Home Companion—the only place you can hear the masterful Garrison Keillor share his stories of Lake Wobegon.
Which brings me to the second example: Story Corps. Story Corps is a nonprofit organization that began in 2003. It goes across the country interviewing people, recording them, and putting their stories on CDs for the participants to keep . . . and, they also preserve the stories at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress for future generations. So far they have recorded 50,000 stories from 90,000 people. These stories are broadcasted on a weekly basis on National Public Radio. It is one of the world’s largest oral history/story projects ever.
And, the third example: TED. TED’s motto is “ideas worth spreading.” TED began in 1984 as a conference where technology, entertainment and design converged . . . but, now it covers all topics from science to business global issues . . . you name it, TED has covered it. It is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks or stories . . . and, they now do it in over 100 languages. What has started out as a single conference has now spread to hundreds of conferences all over the world. Even in Montana there are at least five or six TED events a year . . . even two are scheduled for the big city down the road. All of them sold out. But, that is the great thing about TED . . . they are all video recorded, put on their website, and shared. They get millions of hits on their site every year.
I think that this proves that people are longing for stories . . . that they are willing to learn how to listen once again. I think that people are yearning to tell their stories . . . to share their stories . . . shoot, how many millions of bloggers are there? Story Corps puts their purpose as being: “To provide people of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share and preserve the stories of our lives . . . to remind everyone of our shared humanity. . . to strengthen and build connections between people . . . to teach the value of listening . . . to weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that everyone’s story matters.”
I echo my granddaughter’s proclamation: “. . . look at all these stories!” They are all around us. Everyone has a story to share . . . a story to tell. It is what makes us human . . . it is what brings us together. The problem is not that we have lost the stories or the storytellers, but we have forgotten how to listen.
Everyone has a story.