Friday, March 24, 2023

F ³: Listening and Telling

Once upon a time, a very long time ago now, about last Friday…

Some of the children’s books I read growing up began as bedtime stories for children. American culture is not as focused on the art of oral storytelling as many other, older cultures. Bedtime stories are the place where many of us have our first (and sometimes only) experience with it.

I remember telling my older daughter stories about going on adventures to a magical kingdom on the back of her magical pink pony. 

And they went trot-trot, trot-trot, trot-trot and - - whoosh! into the sky…

Did you know that March 20th is World Storytelling Day?

Image from The Maryland State Library on Twitter 

World Storytelling Day is a global celebration of the art of oral storytelling. It is celebrated every year on the March equinox, on March 20. #MDLibraries carry on oral storytelling tradition through programs and events, including story time for young children.

This was news to me, so I did a bit of digging around. This explanation is from the World Storytelling Day Facebook Group:


World Story Day has been celebrated around the world with great success since 2003.

Throughout that one day oral storytellers around the world are busy inspiring audiences, and creating community, by telling classical tales, local stories, glorious, horrendous, happy, challenging, spooky, romantic and dramatic epic stories. Some wrapped in music, some staged and others intimate - but every story is told in a unique and compelling way, by a storyteller whose heart is full of great tales to bridge our divides and remind us what it is to be human.

We tend to think of storytelling as something reserved for children. Maybe it’s because modern culture has strayed so far from honoring the authenticity of the oral tradition. Why sit and listen to someone talk when you could watch a movie or see a show or stream animated digital content? Children still possess the inborn ability to suspend disbelief and be carried beyond their immediate surroundings by a story.

All to soon it is educated and entertained out of them. Out of us.

Yet I was fascinated by the storytelling event I went to as a part of Columbia’s 50th birthday celebration. These were the stories of personal experience, not folktales or fairytales with magical characters. If you’ve ever listened to The Moth on Public Radio you have experienced that kind of storytelling. It’s an art. As the explanation above suggests, it takes “a storyteller whose heart is full of great takes to bridge our divides and remind us what it is to be human.”

Some of us may not feel we are up to that level of storytelling. Or perhaps we don’t like being the center of attention. But storytelling need not be a formal event. Sometimes it is as small as the things you share with your family at the end of your day, or the funny family stories about life events that get better and better with each retelling. Or the moments snuggled up to a sleepy child.

In the last ten years or so there has been a good deal of scientific study on how storytelling affects the brain. A good story can connect with the parts of our brain that react to real, active experiences rather than passive ones. Our brains can produce cortisol and oxytocin just from hearing a vivid narrative. That’s right: listening to stories can change brain chemistry and sometimes our subsequent behavior as well.

Do you enjoy telling stories? Do you like to listen? Can you remember a story that has really stayed with you over time, or influenced you in some way?

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