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Storytelling…Why We Tell the Stories

June 13, 2012

A Belfast filmmaker recently described the experience of growing up next door to a police station. Awakened frequently, the family regularly evacuated and returned to blown out windows. Did he realise that 25 years later that he referred to the building next door as “the playstation”?

My work centres on helping folks get “unstuck”. I support their journey through career change and business start-up.

The method is rooted in their stories. They learn they are not “Sean the accountant” or “Susan the mother of 4”; I begin to know them while they begin to understand themselves. They describe where they came from, I reflect their story back. They start moving in a new direction. Not one I choose for them, but one illuminated by the light of their own story-telling process.

Simply put it is the way in which we share the full measure of our experiences.

Stories are delivered not entirely in the words. Therein lies the magic. An adolescent’s yarns spun about where they were and what they did reveals the most important truths often in what was left unsaid.

The onus is on the listener to take what you like and leave the rest. The carefully chosen words unconsciously deliver the message in the moment, and a fuller one later when compared to other tellings.

Sometimes hard truths are so painful that while we initially take in the whole story, we describe only part of it to ourselves and others; it is how we are able to live with the pain. Later, over many years in the retelling, we process the experience in safer times and places. Ultimately, we come to terms with the whole truth, by observing the edits and enhancements across time.

When we devalue storytelling we lose a way to communicate, even to ourselves. How many of us have told the story of a difficult experience so many times, that in each retelling we let go of a piece of the shock, pain or horror and come to terms with it. We plant the episode in the past, we grow and learn new ways to cope. In retelling or reframing an experience, we are applying new coping skills to the remembered event.

That Belfast filmmaker now tells stories for a living; more importantly he has come to understand the grievous long term impact of having believed a life of midnight evacuations and  shattered windows was  “normal”. He now knows it was not. It was trauma.

His message:

Fear is the Enemy of Creativity; Fear is the Thief of Dreams


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