There’s Nothing Quite Like Storytelling

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HARSHAD SAMBAMURTHY

“There is a Moon inside every human being. Learn to be companions with it. Give more of your life to this listening,” said Rumi, the great Sufi mystic.

This writer has always been enamoured by stories, the images language invokes, and the mesmeric flow of the storyteller. What also encapsulates and catapults me, the listener, into another dimension, is a whole, new world a vortex like no other painted from moments along the corridor of my memory.

As an educational and pedagogical tool, storytelling is invaluable, for it is the “essential element in consciousness” [Barton, 1990]. I believe storytelling has the potential to play a decisive role in adding affective textures to, otherwise, traditionally and predominantly cognitive-centric curricula.

Humans have perpetually turned to folktales for relief from the tribulations of life, as a means of preserving cultural tradition, and as a tool for instructing the young and preparing them for adult life. Native American tales have provided listeners with a lens through which they may catch a glimpse of the past, the prevalent culture, social order and routine of daily life, while linking individuals of today to ancestors from centuries and millennia past [Erdoes and Ortiz, 1984].

EXPRESSION & VISION

Folktales are the expression of a people’s vision of life and their sense of self — also, their struggle in the “ebb and flow of the human condition” [Mama, 1998]. More than works of oral literature, folktales — and the sharing of stories — belong in the “realm of cultural history, serving as instruments for the promotion of cross-cultural understanding” [Mama, 1998].

Language plays a critical role in storytelling, not just in the communication or recital of a story, but as a means for enhancing “language and communication skills [and building] positive attitudes towards the [surrounding] environment” [Joy, 1994].

I once believed theatre and storytelling to go hand-in-hand, but I now realise that theatre is used as a platform to both complement and illustrate a story and give listeners “an opportunity to hear the natural, rhythmic, repetitive, melodic flow of the language” [Joy, 1994].

Listening to a story is therapeutic — it touches the soul. It is also spiritually gratifying and it provides us with a way of seeing into ourselves, while offering good counsel [Barton, 1990]. Attentive listening is the ricochet effect of good storytelling. The journey the listener goes through whilst listening to a story increases self-awareness, and this synchronisation of mind and body is brought about when the individual listener creatively reconstructs the story being told through their own imaginative response.

This response results in a new state of peace, also awareness of oneself, and of others. As Rumi articulated, it is coming into contact with an infinite divine, a Moon within oneself. The story “alone taken literally does nothing to change, transform, or move the mind and heart, [rather], it is the living, reciprocal sharing that opens another level of meaning that is far more significant” [Simms, 2001].

Mentally assuming the role[s] of either the good or the bad character[s] helps the listener gain inner experience of the cause and effect of actions on the self, others and the natural world. The spontaneous involvement in an unfolding story stimulates the creation of an inner story that makes one aware of their own capacity for both good and evil.

OASIS OF COMMUNION

Participating in the event of storytelling itself “conjures an oasis of communion with others as well as [acts as] a direct access for mental stability” [Simms, 2001]. Story helps to understand the complexity of our emotional responses, demonstrated by the expressive voices of characters speaking eloquently and powerfully of their feelings. Stories fundamentally “do things to people… [it] is not an exercise in explanation of persuasion but an experience between the teller and the told” [Barton, 1990].

Storytelling, as an educational and pedagogical tool, is a “powerful way of validating one’s life to oneself and to others, but it can also be a useful tool [for] analysis and assimilating one’s understanding of scientific and technical concepts” [Barton, 1990]. This validation of one’s own interpretation — by other classmates and colleagues — will simultaneously provide students with a “sense of significance and a self-knowledge which could have powerful repercussions beyond the classroom… into homes and communities” [Barton, 1990].

The mixture of pure scientific cognitive-centric curricula with storytelling — which appeals to the affective domain — can, I believe, be decisive in strengthening one’s educational experience across all levels of learning; primary, secondary, tertiary, and beyond.

A CATALYST LIKE NO OTHER

I believe, as an environmental educator, that storytelling can catalyse, redefine and reimagine perspectives towards the natural environment, while re-infusing within the classroom a strong environmental consciousness and ethic that was once prevalent and dominant — more so, when its is transmitted and communicated through the widespread and once commonplace usage of mythology, symbolic association, song, dance, poetry and theatre.

What really struck me, and what I hope to achieve with storytelling is to foster, and imbue within the listener, a student, a child is compassion and humaneness – to draw upon the “miraculous ability of humans to be disturbed by another’s misfortune, to feel joy for another’s happiness, and to experience another’s fate as [your] own” [Barton, 1990].

Presently, in the anthropocene, developing an environmental consciousness is urgently required, and storytelling, both the re-telling of old tales, as well as the creation and sharing of new ones, will help bridge cultures, re-unite individuals with their surrounding environment — in what is, otherwise, increasingly alienated urban spaces — and, assist each of us in realising that innate divinity. That the spirit Moon dwells within us, ready to blossom forth.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • Booth, B [1990], Stories in the Classroom, Pembroke Publishers Ltd
  • Erdoes, R and Ortiz, A [1984], American Indian Myths and Legends, Pantheon Books
  • Joy, F [1994], Tips for Using a Simple Tale: The Enormous Turnip in Tale as Tools: The Power of Story in the ClassroomStorytelling Magazine, National Storytelling Association
  • Mama, R [1998], Why Goats Smell Bad and Other Stories from Benin, Shoe String Press Inc
  • Simms, L [2001], Sudden StoryStorytelling Magazine, National Storytelling Association. Vol 13, Issue 1.

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