“The ones who tell the stories shape and rule the world.” Hopi Wisdom
The power of stories has fascinated me for many years; telling stories, hearing stories, being read stories, all of it! A few weeks ago, I attended M’ellen Kennedy’s daylong workshop “The Sacred Art of Storytelling.” M’ellen is a Unitarian Universalist minister who is known for “preaching from the heart.” That means she speaks without a script and also teaches other ministers how to do the same. What she really does is teach them how to tell stories.
Prior to being a Unitarian Universalist minister, M’ellen was a psychologist with a specialty in small group work. Today, she teaches classes and gives workshops, which essentially meld the work from then and now as she spreads the word about the importance of stories.
During the workshop, we explored storytelling in great depth learning about the human propensity for stories and the current research findings from psychology and neuroscience explaining why stories have such a magnetic pull. There is an amazing connectivity that happens in the brains of storytellers and their audience. Stories are also vehicles for what might be described as rather mystical experiences rooted deep within our DNA and psyche.
The day with M’ellen was a blend of small group work carefully structured to provide a safe experience where we could not only learn about storytelling but also practice telling a story to our colleagues. We could tell a fable, a story we had heard, or share our own story about anything we wanted.
We began with a handout describing our “Relational Agreements or Ground Rules for the Storytelling Workshop.” The rules included: do not interrupt, respect confidentiality about stories, allow for silence, assume good intentions, and listen deeply and respectfully. The rules set a tone for our time together.
There were six of us in the group with varying degrees of skill and comfort levels ranging from totally relaxed, seasoned speakers to those who admitted they were nervous and not at all looking forward to the prospect of “telling their stories.” I was somewhere in the middle range of the anxiety levels.
During the course of the day, as safety and trust were established and our sharing time began, no one seemed even the slightest bit nervous as they spoke aloud to the group. Actually, everyone appeared centered and powerful.
Following the guidance of The Health Federation of Philadelphia, we look to stories as extraordinary means of getting our messages out. As I observe individuals like Marshall Gantz or folks giving TED Talks tell stories, I am increasingly aware of how powerful stories are. Stories shape our future. They teach us big lessons about life and not only who we are but also how we are.
One “aha” from the day with M’ellen was inspired by a quote from Emerson. M’ellen asked us to complete this sentence: “And what greater calamity can fall upon a nation, than the loss of ______?” We all guessed what the missing word could be and we were all wrong. As it turned out, the final word in that quote is “worship.”
“And what greater calamity can fall upon a nation, than the loss of worship?”
I immediately went to my traditional understanding of the word and thought… ”Ok, now M’ellen is showing us her minister side.” But no, that wasn’t it at all. The word worship is formed from two ancient words blending the ideas of “worthiness” and “shaping something.” To worship is to bring into form something worth expressing. I guess according to that definition, a TED Talk is a form of worship. In that sense of the word, our day together was also a form of worship as is the work of Peace4Tarpon to create a resilient community. The work of all the MARC communities across the country is also a form of worship. Creating healthy and resilient communities is definitely a process of “creating something worthy” in our nation.
Through storytelling, we can gather together as individuals and also as different communities at the level of the heart. That’s where we can share through telling our stories - the story of “me”, the story of “us” and the story of “now.” That’s where we can inspire others to follow us in this work - in this idea “worthy of shaping.” Good stuff.
“There have been great societies who did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.” Ursula K. LeGuin
Written By: Robin Saenger, Founding Director of Peace4Tarpon
This is Peace4Tarpon’s first “When The Nickel Dropped” story. We will be sharing stories of members and partners of when, as Peace4Tarpon calls it, “the nickel dropped” and the person understood how trauma/ACEs impacts lives and how we each have been called to help deliver that message and take action. We hope you enjoy our stories.