Tag Archives: storytelling

human, the storytelling animal

i just read too scared to pee – about women in nairobi’s slums for whom it is just too dangerous to go to the washroom at night.

details. it is details that make things real for us. statistics like “30% of men in a south african survey believed that women ask to be raped” are scary but they can’t grab us as much as the story of the woman who pees into a plastic bag at night because the 10-minute walk to the public latrine might get her raped. i haven’t even told a good story yet and already the imagination runs wild and questions pop up.

  • what do you mean, “public latrine”?
  • how come she doesn’t have a washroom in her house?
  • who are these animals that make her live that way?
  • i go to the washroom at least twice at night, how would i survive something like this?

it’s the same with other situations. the other day, a young woman talked about the things she has to do each morning because she has juvenile diabetes. a guy tells a story about the difficulties with finding work because as a single father, he needs to take his 6-year-old son to and from school each day; the son’s social anxiety makes it impossible for him to go to after school care. and when i was working with people with chronic pain, it was the daily details that people were talking about all the time: taking two hours each morning to get out of bed, not having the strength to make elaborate meals and therefore eating a lot of junk food, difficulty wearing shoes …

when we hear the details and the stories, we connect. why is it often so difficult to tell the stories then, when they are so crucial? and what is it that moves us when we go the other way and say, “spare me the details”? are the two connected?

what’s your experience with telling and hearing stories?

let the wizard of oz help you!

i just finished reading norm amundson’s new book metaphor making. it is written to assist counsellors in making better use of metaphors and includes theoretical foundations and intervention exercises. the most interesting part (for me) were the forty metaphoric images that offer an in-depth practical and personal opportunity to experience working with metaphors. i’d like to give you a taste of it. this one is about the yellow brick road. since i’m thinking of using it with my immigrant clients who may not be familiar with the wizard of oz, and since some of you may have forgotten the story, here’s a short intro, adapted from amundson’s version:

once upon a time there was a young girl, dorothy, and her dog, toto.

one day they were swept away by a cyclone and carried away to the land of oz. dorothy was determined to get back home and found out she should get help from the wizard who lived in the emerald city.

on her journey there, she was joined by three companions: a lion who needed courage, a scarecrow who needed a brain, and a tin man who needed a heart. the foursome met traveled on a road paved with yellow bricks and they met many adventures, and good and bad witches.

in the end they found the wizard and it turned out he was no real wizard after all! still, they managed to reach their goals through the magical encounters they had had along the way.

amundson’s thoughts on this story:

sometimes we are unexpectedly blown away by strong winds that knock us off the ground and take us to new places. when that happens, we get confused and we have to create new plans.

in the story dorothy has silver slippers that have the power to take her home but she does not know that. instead she goes on a journey to get help from an expert who, it seems, has all the answers.

dorothy’s companions all have lost confidence in their natural abilities. together they represent passion, intellect and the courage to act – all essential elements of a happy life. they, too, are seeking to find help from the wizard.

when we are in transition (“on the road”) we often feel uncertain. there can be confusion and doubt that we are smart (the scarecrow’s missing brain) or emotionally strong enough (the tin man’s missing heart). we can feel fear, and that can take away from our courage to take risks (just like the lion).

still, it all gets resolved because of persistence, problem solving and help that comes in the midst of all the difficulties – often from unexpected sources.

the wizard in this story has maintained power through lies and illusion. maybe that’s similar to some job seekers who feel that there are negative forces that exert control over them (e.g. a bad economy). in the end, the wizard is unmasked. however, no-one kills or punishes him – he only is allowed to show his true, human face now – and it turns out that without his mask, he also can be helpful.

the morale?

the answers for many of life’s problems lie within us rather than in the hands of an all-knowing expert. there are also many ways in which people can support each other to reach their goals.

things to think about:

can you see any similarities between your situation and the story of the wizard of oz?

can you see some areas of your life where you may have more strengths than you are using right now?

if you were in this story, what would you be looking for: courage, passion, intelligence, a home – or something completely different?

can you think of another story that might have similarities with your situation right now?