Tag Archives forpower of stories

Storytelling for a peaceful world

My talented storyteller friend, Liz Weir, sent me the link to Kiran Singh Sirah’s stirring talk on the power of stories “to change the world.” If you’ve ever wondered why the ancient art of storytelling has such cachet these days, spend a quarter of an hour watching this inspiring video. Then think of your own life, your work, your family, your friends and how your stories just might start a ripple that changes the world.


The storytelling that’s trashing your investments

You sit down with your financial adviser. She offers you a slate of options she expects will weather the stormy economy and give you solid returns. You plunk down your hard-earned cash, sign the risk waiver, and wait.

You don’t wait long, of course. You start tracking the bouncing ball that shows your principle is disappearing with the Chinese stock market tumble. Those alternative energy stocks? They are tanking as oil prices fall.

What is happening here? How will you survive retirement now that your savings are slumping?

Storytelling. That’s what’s happening.

In her talk on The Dark Side of Storytelling, Suzanne Duncan of the Center for Applied Research says your financial adviser is so caught up in her own stories she is unable to give you solid, objective advice. And she is totally incapable of accepting the role storytelling is playing in her investment successes and failures.

Suzanne Duncan giving a TED talk

Of course, it is not just your finances that are in jeopardy. So are your children, when your parenting stories go awry. So is their teacher, when his education stories are misguided. So is the planet, when our stories about its future are so short sighted we think we can get away with trashing the environment and heating up the earth.

The good news is that we can change those stories. We have done it many times before.

An example in my lifetime: Doctors used to promote cigarette brands. Tobacco companies kept the smoking as health-neutral story alive for a long time, but now even the secondhand-smoke-is-safe story has been turned on its head.

We can counter the dark side of storytelling by being detectives. Look inside the stories you’re told. Examine the stories you believe. Figure out what they’re based on. Be willing to adopt new, better stories.

The world is counting on our stories. Let’s make them good ones.

Uncertainty is the only certainty

Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 1.37.56 PM

Animated version of Alan Watts telling the story of the Chinese farmer – animation by Steve Agnos; from Sustainable Human


Our best friend moves far away. Our house burns, leaving us with none of our material possessions. The man we knew we would love forever leaves us with a shattered heart.

In the immediate aftermath, we respond with despair. And then life intervenes. A business trip takes us to the city where our friend now lives. The insurance company settlement is enough to build the house of our dreams. A new love introduces us to experiences we would never have tried on our own.

Not every aftermath is so sunny, but what we always have is possibility. In this animated version of a story told by philosopher Alan Watts, the loss of a horse leads to a small herd. A son’s accident keeps him from being conscripted as a soldier. Each incident starts with a transforming event. But what at first seems like loss or gain can, over time, become the opposite.

When I traveled as a storyteller, I heard this story many times. The details changed with the teller, but the message was always the same: Uncertainty is the only certainty. Everything else is story material.

Only a good story can change minds

Photo by jackske, via morgueFile

Photo by jackske, via morgueFile

Years ago, Mike Connelly wrote the words below in a story called “Swinger Goes to Town.” It appeared in the January-February 2000 issue of Orion, and Utne Reader republished it here. I loved the story he weaves through it, about a cow named Swinger.

The story, and the whole piece, is one of the best arguments I’ve come across that we need to ratchet down the rhetoric and stoke up the stories if we want to change anyone’s mind…about anything.

Now if only I could remember that when someone gets me fired up about some issue.

Environmentalists need to tell more stories, not pass more laws. And they need to listen more closely to the stories of those they hope to change, and to realize that people who are forced to change don’t stay changed any longer than they have to. People can, and will, change themselves by the stories they tell, and by the subtle changes they make to stories they have inherited. We will not replace their stories. We have no business replacing their stories. We should show our manners and be grateful to have a place around their fire, and a turn to speak. ~ Mike Connelly, “Swinger Goes to Town”


Your job search just got easier


In spite of the long hiatus since the last post, StoryRoute keeps welcoming visitors from around the world. Recently one of those visitors contacted me about a storytelling service unlike any I had ever come across.

Andrea Martins is the founder of Story Resumes, a company that promises to “transform ordinary resumes into extraordinary ones.” A quick look around the site convinced me the company can deliver the goods. I was on screening committees for new hires many times and can attest that nearly every resume is yawningly similar. If any of them had come through with the pizzazz of a Story Resume, I would have put it right on the top of the pile.

Obviously you still have to deliver the goods in an interview and at work, but a Story Resume just might be the difference between being overlooked and landing the right job.

In the interview below you will meet the creative woman behind this refreshing new approach to standing out from the crowd of job seekers.

Cathryn: Andrea, I really enjoyed your personal success story (shown here in comic form). Can you tell us more about how your job search experience inspired Story Resumes?

Andrea Martins

Andrea Martins, founder of Story Resumes

Andrea: Sure. Looking for work can be an incredibly frustrating experience. It starts with the thrill of possibility, but it often quickly sours into a deafening silence of no responses. Inexplicably, recruiters overlook your superpowers and before you know it, you’ve fallen into a self-doubting pit that’s hard to climb out of. My experience was no different.

In late 2012, after months of getting nowhere, I tried a different approach. I turned my resume into a story (one sentence for each of my ten PowerPoint slides) and had my story illustrated to add flavor and feeling.

At the time, my approach was a little experimental, and I wasn’t sure how it would go. But thankfully it turned out to be the tipping point that I had needed all along because recruiters and company founders (on the other side of the world) started writing responses to my job applications and phoning me within hours of receiving my creative resume — offering me interviews, and later, offering me jobs.

I accepted a few of the jobs/projects, but on the side I started developing Story Resumes to help fellow frustrated job seekers shoot to the top of a recruiter’s job applications pile.

Cathryn: Can you share more examples like yours of how storytelling is being used successfully in job search?

Andrea: Absolutely. Jens Lennartsson is one of my favorites. He created and mailed out 400 GI-Joe-type action figures of himself (with a brochure showcasing a sample portfolio of his work), to relay his story and value in a very visual, touchable and tangible way.

Pharmaceutical copywriter Jon Ryder is another favorite. He made a fake medicine box that incorporated his resume on (and in) the box. Such creative genius to spin your resume into a story like that!

We’ve also interviewed some wonderful success stories on our site. For example: James Corne created an Alcoholics Anonymous parody video to tell his story; Miruna Macri designed a fake passport and conveniently lost it in the ad agencies she wanted to work in so that the right kind of people would pick it up and be curious about her story; Joshua Drummond shared his resume story as a comic book; and Jack DeManche turned his resume story into a subway map!

Cathryn: Do you see these examples as a passing fad, or as an indication of what’s in store for the future?

Andrea: I see storytelling being used more, not less, in job search. Very few people stand out on a traditional black-and-white paper resume, and judging by the number of creative resume stories now being promoted in mainstream media, I believe that job seekers are starting to realize this. In the years to come (in some industries), I see more creative/storytelling resumes being submitted than traditional resumes. Because if you’re not doing it, your competitors will be. And it’s no surprise which candidate would grab my attention more if I were a recruiter!

Cathryn: Thank you very much, Andrea, for sharing these inspiring examples and insights. I wish you and Story Resumes every success.

When storytelling is too powerful

Since 2001 the Center for Women’s Global Leadership has designated November 25th to December 10th as 16 Days of Action on Violence Against Women. This year the Central Okanagan Elizabeth Fry Society is participating through a “Write for Rights Blog-A-Thon”. The purpose of the blog-a-thon is to raise awareness about violence against women, encourage support of local work that is being done to assist survivors of violence, and demonstrate solidarity with women affected by violence.

The Central Okanagan Elizabeth Fry Society works tirelessly for social justice. Learn more about how you can help by visiting their Web site. Read stories of hope and survival on their inspiring Beyond Crisis site.

road rash is in fashion

Photo by Nathan Lewis, via Flickr Creative Commons

The request

“We want you to tell stories about violence against women. It’s for a national conference.”

My husband and I were entertainers—storytellers and musicians—not therapists, so we hesitated. The organizers of a conference on domestic violence wanted us to not only tell stories about the issues but to actually portray rising tension, culminating in an episode of violence between us.

They hit us in our weak spot. They actually believed in the power of storytelling to thread the labyrinth of professional distance and find the soft center, the place where the barrier of protection is breached. Still, we refused until they promised to let the audience know what they had asked us to do and to make sure counselors were on hand afterward.

Both victims of abuse and abusers sit in any audience. If we were as effective as the organizers hoped we would be, we would be unleashing emotions that might shatter the shields of degrees, licenses, and professional objectivity. The conference committee understood our concern, agreed to our terms, and sent a contract.

The performance

We chose stories from folklore and mythology that were metaphors, thinking they would provide just enough distance for safety. We added some contemporary songs. Around them we wove the thread of tension between us that was to culminate in my husband’s pretending to hit me. Rehearsing was emotionally draining.

On the day of the performance, the organizers failed us. They did not explain to the audience of counselors, social workers, physicians, and therapists what they had asked us to do. And we realized in the aftermath that they also did nothing to make sure counseling was available for those who saw their own stories played out before them.

In the silence at the end of our performance, we knew we had met the organizers’ hopes. The audience sat in that quiet space where even moving feels like sacrilege. Then someone broke the spell, and the audience applauded enthusiastically.

That’s when the organizers failed us again. They were to lead the question period but left us to do it instead. Most of the questions were variations on the first, and they were all aimed at trying to get my husband to tell them when and why he had started abusing me.

In the hours that followed, many women waited until they could catch me on my own. They wanted to pour out their own sorrows, confusions and fears, the complicated ties that kept them from leaving abusive relationships.

The acknowledgement

The only person who would speak to my husband, whom the group now identified as a monster, was a woman who approached us together.

“Thank you,” she said. “You got it right. That’s exactly how it starts.”

She was one of the speakers, a woman who had just been released from prison. She had murdered her husband after years of horrendous abuse. Gradual awareness of the vulnerability of women in abusive relationships had led to her being pardoned. She had become a powerful speaker, sharing her story in an effort to make the world safe for women being battered by their partners.

Her appreciation was the one bright spot in the day for us. If we had had any lingering doubts about the power of storytelling, they disappeared that day. The experience drove home a lesson we had tried to impress on the conference organizers, that finding the dark heart of human emotion is accompanied by responsibility. What we had feared, and the reason for our insistence they set the context for the performance and then offer counseling, had proven true. We had the capacity to reach inside the hearts of those who had experienced, or perpetrated, domestic violence.

We were asked to perform at the next year’s conference. This time we refused until they agreed to set the performance up so the audience knew what to expect and then to clearly identify where anyone traumatized could receive help immediately. They did a miserable job on both counts so we never agreed to participate again, but at least the second year we built into the performance a lifeline that left the audience more hopeful and more empowered.

The world we want

Our storytelling at those two conferences and my community development work with numerous women’s groups before and after were driven by the vision of a world where women no longer have to be warned not to go out alone after dark, a world where no one is afraid to go home, where no woman has to turn herself into a pretzel trying to appease her abuser. That is a story worth working for.

Domestic violence and sexual abuse continue to imperil the lives and emotions of millions of women. They are our neighbours and friends. They are the family members who are afraid at home and shamed into believing they are at fault. Their stories haunt me.

Until the assault on women ends, none of us is truly safe. But I believe a different world is possible, and it is the world envisioned by Donna Milner in the poem she wrote for a production of The Vagina Monologues in Williams Lake. She titled the poem, “A community, a world without violence against women or children.”

Read it, and let’s work together for that day.

US debt crisis as a clash of stories

childrens museum tug of war

Children's museum tug of war, Photo by Paul J. Everett, Flickr Creative Commons


I’ve been listening to politicians from the left and right as they tell their versions of debt in the U.S. The right insists no agreement is possible without a constitutional amendment capping debt. The left insists no agreement is possible without raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy. Each side claims the other’s story is a false interpretation of the way things really work.

I confess bias toward the left. The gap between rich and poor in the U.S. is the worst in the world, and it keeps on widening. The trickle-down story, where leaving money in the hands of corporations and the wealthiest ensures jobs for everyone else, has proven fictional but still has incredible staying power.

It’s clear the U.S. needs a new and healthier story of how government should function in a democratic society. The minimal-government right is suspicious of anything that gives power to those not in the producing sector, as if roads, hospitals, schools, libraries, and parks were not of benefit to everyone. They are suspicious of all regulations, as if industry would, on its own, stop polluting our streams, land and air and poisoning our bodies.

No side has a corner on The One True Story. Life is far too complex for that. However, it seems to me that any country in which the predominant story is focused more on accumulation of wealth than on egalitarian principles is doomed to failure.

An article published on Oakland Local last December said of the need for viable stories, “In a world so out of balance, we need landmarks and milestones to help us see the way forward. Narrative is like a series of virtual cairns that help us stay on the path.”

May the U.S. build new cairns before once again bringing the world to its financial knees.

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