I am trying to fill myself with equal parts thoughtful positivity and reality. I am trying to pay attention to the world around me, and the higher world of thoughts, hopes, dreams, and things that cannot be contained on this small earth. That's why I like to listen to TED Talks, as I've mentioned before. Not only can I choose talks that were written to inspire and encourage, but I can also choose talks that are from perspectives that I might not see anywhere else. It helps me see things from a new perspective.
Today I was listening/watching a talk given by Sisonke Msimang, who talked about the power of storytelling. Now, if you know anything about me, it is probably this; I love to tell a good story. Storytelling comes easily to me, and I love the feel of a good story coming to an end. I suppose it is one reason that I enjoy teaching reading; I love spreading the love of the written word.
One of the things that struck me in her talk was her unique focus. She was explaining why storytelling doesn't necessarily make our lives better - which sounds somewhat negative but if you listen to the entire talk you will understand.
Telling stories isn't enough.
It is what we do about stories that matter. I loved when she talked about the fact that she wished stories had buttons on them that you could click. "If you want to learn more about this topic, click here," or "To support the causes in this storyteller's story, click here." It is not enough to read and agree, but true stories should call us to action.
We need ugly stories, too.
Everyone loves a feel-good story. We love a story where the underdog rises up and achieves glory, or defeats the bad guy. We realte to that underdog and imagine how good it would feel to rise above all the troubles that plague us. We do not like a story where the hero is never quite heroic -- where they try and try and try, but still fail. Those stories are depressing. And we especially don't like stories that bring attention to our own faults. No one likes to be called out on their weaknesses and errors - we would rather look away and forget about the darkness.
Msimang said, "Sometimes it is the messages we dont want to hear, that make us want to crawl out of our skin, that we need to hear the most. For every lovable storyteller who steals you heart, there are hundreds more whose voices are slurred and ragged, who don't get to stand up on a stage dressed in fine clothes like this. And we can't aford to ignore them because we don't like the protagonist or because that's not the kid that we would bring home with us from the orphanage."
I know that is really true for me. Sometimes I've learned the best lessons from people who I really, really, really, REALLY didn't like. They rubbed me the wrong way; they were bossy, know-it-alls or biter angry people. But, they were also right. Their words had weight and meaning.
I'm sure you've heard the quote about how we all need to talk less and listen more. And it is true, of course. But it isn't that we just need to listen, we also need to listen to all the voices around us -- the ones that we agree with and the ones we don't. We can learn something from all of them. But beyond listening, we need to move forward and act. If a story fills you with hope or inspiration, don't just listen -- support that story or support the storyteller in whatever way you can.
And, as I have said many times to my students over the years, for those of you sitting silent, believing the lies that your story is less important because it isn't pretty, or you don't think you are pretty, or maybe the story doesn't end in pretty victory wrapped in a bow -- the time for you to speak is now. We are all waiting to hear your story. Your voice matters, too. Speak, now.
If you are looking for me, I am lost somewhere in between all the words in our story,