The “How” of Storytelling

Humans are the only animals that tell stories. It is fundamental to our nature. We told stories before we learned to read and write. There is a reason why scriptures and moral codes have been passed down verbally as tales and stories. We communicate by finding meaning and patterns among different events in our lives and presenting them as a single narrative. As such, we are no strangers to storytelling.

That being said, there is research being conducted on how we can harness the power of our stories for personal gain, professional growth, and social advancement. Storytelling- even though an ancient human art form- is new to us as an effective communication tool. We don’t need help understanding, appreciating, or consuming stories- we do that every day- we just need help in formulating ways in which stories can help us be heard, understood, and accepted.

Students often ask me how can their personal stories have any use or meaning to anyone but themselves. The benefit of storytelling, in general, is undeniable, but the implementation at a personal level can be confusing, and sometimes daunting. I present to you three simple ways of how storytelling can be harnessed to unburden ourselves, put our message across, and build a community:

  1. Sharing (create)

The first one is fairly straightforward- we share stories, we feel better. It’s that simple. It’s out there, it’s not sitting on my chest anymore, and it belongs to everyone now. The story has a life on to itself. If it’s a happy story- we feel good about spreading joy to others. Happiness shared is happiness doubled. If it’s a sad story, we feel like we don’t have to hide in shame or guilt anymore. That there are others who can take bits and pieces of it and thus lift some of our burdens. Misery shared is misery halved. All you need is a pen and paper, or just a friendly ear to make someone a part of your life, not just as an audience but also as a fellow pedestrian in the walk of life. Try it and see if that resonates.

  1. Communicating (associate)

You might have heard the phrase- “the personal is political”. What does that mean? It means that an incident doesn’t exist in isolation. It can belong and be connected to a broader theme. And in fact, the incident (or the story) can be used to communicate our point about a broader topic. Pick anything you care about deeply- climate change, racism, sexism, mental health, education, non-violence: any of these topics can be better communicated through the lens of a personal story. Without a story, the topic remains abstract; it remains a concept. But with a story- people pay attention, they remember, and they act on it.

  1. Mobilizing (relate)

The goal of communicating a story that is connected to a larger theme we care about is to bring people together- people who identify with our cause. When people identify with and believe in the cause, they become allies. And what does this group of allies do? They get together, demand accountability, and create change. You create a movement, you mobilize people. In order to do that, your stories have to reach across a diverse range of people who will join you in your cause. Revolutions in history have happened when one or a few people have shared their stories and attracted enough people to join in their cause that it becomes a movement. Workers who shared the agony of a six-day workweek mobilized and demanded a two-day weekend that we all benefit from. Change can start with a single individual, but for it to get implemented, we need people to come together to accelerate that change. Your stories can make that happen.

Following these three steps of Create- Associate-Relate is all it takes to turn a spark of a personal story into a blazing fire of a movement. But even for those who aren’t looking to get a group together- simply using your story to gain the attention of a fellow student or a figure of authority can go a long way in helping you stand out and be heard.

You have your story. Use it because it counts. Your stories- all of them, big and small- count.