How can we connect with each other? By telling stories.
Stories carry the wisdom of our lifetime.
When telling a story, we spark a connection. Every human being knows how to tell a story and how to listen to it. It’s the (hi)story of humanity – it’s how we have been communicating since the beginning of homo x before we could read or write.
Stories are the link and connection between all kinds of people. Telling stories is a way of communication that holds us together – may it be in English or Xhosa, an old or new one, a single or collective story. We reflect ourselves in different stories and interpret the meaning of the stories. Interwoven images and metaphors play a powerful role in this as they help us engage our imagination and shape who we become.
By telling stories we understand ourselves and each other better. Stories are the foundation of what we think and how we see the world. We understand our lives in and through stories. We live out of our own stories each and every day. They help us build our own identity as they reflect the way we think, take decisions and perceive the world. Stories give us a place in this huge world of diverse standing points.
Stories preserve traditions and nurture cultural living which is passed on from one generation to another. Telling stories keeps old traditions, understandings and archetypes alive.
They also connect us with other cultures, beliefs and universal truths. Through stories, we share passion, feelings and deep meaning. We make sense of the world around us by sharing the stories of ourselves and others. That’s how we find common ground which leads to increased connectedness and engagement.
There is a universal understanding of what stories are and what they mean to us. When listening to a story, you often realize that you share the same fundamental experience. And yet, each one has another perspective to share with different insights and feelings. Every story we hear shapes our way of being and influences the way we think and go ahead.
Achebe (1988) states that in Africa, storytelling was a flourishing, revered art form and contributed to the preservation of memory, the education of people, entertainment, it nurtured creativity, assisted the cohesion of communities, promoted spirituality and so on. The interference of colonialism with its oppressive and superior manner changed the narratives and perspectives of African cultural practice. It is therefore even more important to appreciate traditional knowledge and promote storytelling as a crucial societal element.
“Our traditions were here long before apartheid came to South Africa, and our traditions will be here long after apartheid is gone.”
From a single story to a collective story
We tend to be egocentric and selfish. The famous TED talk of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie shows us how dangerous it is to listen to just one single story. In a world with extreme different opinions, there is a huge need for telling stories and diversifying the narratives of our times.
Stories can change the narrative of separation and polarization: by encouraging the sharing of our own stories and feelings, we can strengthen the understanding of each other’s struggles, aspirations and hopes. It’s a way to find commonality with others despite the differences.
Stories help us to be ourselves and be more compassionate. There are many lessons to be learned from stories. We tend to learn better when listening to a story as the message is clear and effective. Narratives and stories reach deep into our psyche and provide a deeper understanding of concepts, thoughts, and ideas. That’s why we can remember messages and find meaning more easily.
When a story moves us, we are more likely to take action. We learn to become more empathetic and learn to step into someone else’s shoes. It can help us to engage in community groups and be motivated to drive change for the common good.
Stories are also universal in the way that we are all part of this same cosmos. All that exists in this universe originated in the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago. There are billions of galaxies around us, dark matter and billions of stars that hold the world together – each element interconnected and keeping the balance. All life and each story emerges from the same cosmic source.
We are always connected, no matter how distant we are. There is so much that connects us.
In a world where single stories and individualism have taken control over our lives, we want to encourage the reconnection with each other – to grow empathy, joint problem-solving and finally lead pathways to dignity and just futures. Our Participatory Video projects are a beautiful example of that.
What is your story to tell?
Everyone has a story to tell. Every story is meaningful. Every voice should be heard.
During projects, we often ask ourselves: and what is your story? It helps us connect with each other in a new way. We encourage you to share your story with your friends, community – or with us in this blog. Brave or shy storytellers, bridge builders, connectors and all silent heroes are invited to share their story with us.
If you would like to engage in giving space for telling stories and sparking dialogues, please contact us to get involved: firstname.lastname@example.org
- The quote appears in the book The Tongue Is Fire, South African Storytellers and Apartheid by Harold Scheub.[↩]