The word conjures up so many different images and feelings. I used to think of the well known and such loved stories of my childhood; dog eared pages and snuggles in my parents bed on a Saturday morning; words learnt by heart and characters so familiar, I felt like I knew them.
I knew, even as a child, or maybe especially as a child (!!) that stories are important; they carry weight in their themes and messages; they ground us in and to a place.
I grew up in Australia but hailed from England and so the stories my parents read to me held strong icons from each country. Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, The Magic Pudding as well as age old classics from across the sea like Oliver Twist and the Beatrix Potter Collection.
The first time I walked through a wood, here in England where we currently live, I couldn’t help but look for Mole and Rat and Badger! I was almost disappointed that I didn’t meet them – but who can be disappointed for long when one enjoys daily communion with Cock Robin and Squirrel Nutkin!
Reading my youngest child a poem by AA Milne, as we sat on a stair, I couldn’t help but feel like I’d been there before. Even though I grew up in a single story house in Australia, I felt as if I had in fact, had stories read to me on a stair of a Victorian Terrace. Such is the power of stories. They can take us to places we feel in our soul and connect us to places we know in our hearts.
Our ancestors used to share knowledge via the oral tradition of storytelling and almost unanimously across the globe, this was the primary channel for communicating rules for living and passing down wisdom. It’s only relatively recently, that books have been available and accessible with the first printing press being built in the mid 15th century. Of course drawings to illustrate stories and ideas existed long before that in the form of cave paintings, hand made papyrus ‘pages’ and even wax or stone tablets but holding or even owning a book, that can be kept and passed down almost indefinitely, lends a different kind of meaning to how stories come to shape our lives now.
Stories aren’t just of the made-up variety and most cultures have a strong history of folklore as a way of guiding us into moral aptitude; a sort of way-showing, sharing of cultural tradition and sometimes, a connection between fact and fantasy. Much ancient folklore has found its way into print but continues, as was the way with the oral tradition of storytelling, to not be owned but shared.
And here for me, lies the beauty of story. A story must be shared; given and accepted with no judgement.
If we think of stories as our own unique way of sharing and communicating our lived experience, our own thoughts and feelings and thus, the stories shared by others reflect their lived experience, there is no room for defining as right or wrong. They just are.
In this way, we can view our children, our partner, our friends, strangers we encounter, as living in their own unique stories and sometimes, for even a brief time, our stories cross paths and we walk together, creating a shared experience, a shared story.
I’ve found this way of framing the world useful when relating with my children, particularly when they express something I find challenging. I’ve come to recognise that they are living in their own story, as I am in mine, and they invite me to step into it sometimes, which really is a gift to me. And I hope to them. I don’t judge them as wrong, merely living in the expression of their own story – which is actually a kind of folklore. The expression of culture and story.
Imagine a world where, instead of judging the actions and thoughts of others, we held them as protagonists of their own story. One which is uniquely theirs and not ours to judge. Imagine how it would be to live alongside others who were not wrong but merely characters in their own story.
Really what I’m suggesting is that living in STORY, in the unique power of story, can liberate us from the need to judge others. By NOT viewing others through our own lens, we can see them as unique and singularly THEM. Living deeply in their own lived experience, not yours, not mine; walking as their own story takes shape around them; sometimes inviting others in.
And when we are invited in, we often hear pieces of the story that we didn’t previously know; things that we couldn’t possibly know until they are revealed in the telling. What an honour to be allowed, even briefly, into the story of another!
Storytelling is sacred. A story can’t be told without the listening.