Laughter, shared joy, mutual discovery—these kinds of experiences bring people together, build commonality, and increase a sense of belonging. These are the essential ingredients for building community. Commune, in unity: community.
Throughout time, storytelling has been at the heart of community. It is our most ancient cultural transmission device. It’s central to our human experience, yet we do it so often, we don’t really even notice it. In many cases, we’ve lost our revered teachers, and in doing so, culturally, we have lost a clear sense of direction.
Many people hunger for a sense of belonging, yet feel so over-scheduled and overextended that it’s difficult to see where creating that might fit in. Parents realize that children need “a village,” and many would like the advantage of having caring mentors involved with their kids. In our modern culture, we lack the framework for this type of social interweaving, and are coming to understand how much we miss it.
As a traditional storyteller, I observe, over and over again, how keen people are for the shared, authentic, emotional experience that participating in storytelling gives. Whether enacting the role of teller or listener, the power of the story is infused by being present to the moment, in the company of others. Storytelling is a “full contact sport.” There are no bystanders.
Live storytelling adds the grit to the oyster. What you take away may be invisible to the eye, but it leaves a tangible nugget in your heart and mind. Over time, the beauty and polish of the pearl grow, and it remains yours to treasure—and to share. When you discover this gift in community with others, a unique and lasting connection occurs. It is most certainly one of the reasons early humans transferred knowledge in this way. Imparting information through story creates a metaphorical language with which questions and challenges can be discussed. It provides a multidimensional map of life’s landscape with which we can explore the range of human experience.
Storytelling is in only small part about the speaking that the teller does. Much of the communication is non-verbal. Movement, tone, rhythm, physical expression, and more, are the true communicators here. The lion’s share of the work, however, is done by the listener. Vivid images, rich emotions, and deep shades of human understanding are all evoked in the minds and hearts of the observers. Teller, story, and listener are engaged, in unity, in creating an alchemical, imaginal happening that is at once transient and lasting.
Our brains are wired for storytelling. It occurs in every thought we create. We are also wired to seek out a sense of belonging and a sense of significance. Live storytelling gives us both.
Zette Harbour is the founder and artistic director of the Peace Love Story Fest. Send comments to the executive editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.