What do the Booker, Caldecott, Golden Rooster, Newbery, Oscar, Stanislavsky, and Tony, have in common? These coveted awards from across the world all recognize excellence in storytelling. The winning stories enthrall, delight, and hold universal sway over people of all ages and descriptions.
So why tell stories? Stories have been attributed myriad "values": sharpening the imagination; enhance listening, communication, reading, writing, and critical thinking skills; and promote cultural understanding. Even the corporate world is employing storytelling to improve corporate communication, transmit organizational value, propel corporate vision, and increase profits (anecdotes outshine statistics in attracting donors). Unfortunately, if our understanding of stories and storytelling remains limited to these benefits, we are missing the boat. Too many regard stories as desirable childhood pursuits that adults must outgrow to attain maturity. Stories and storytelling are for everyone. As Anthony de Mello so eloquently phrases it, "The shortest distance between truth and a human being is a story."
Stories are important because behind every life there is a story. Life itself is what stories are made of. Every person, no exceptions here, has a story to tell. It is a story that is at once so familiar and similar to so many we have heard before and will no doubt hear again, but at the same time different from anybody else's. Just as no two faces are alike in the world (not even twins'), every person's story is unique and therefore worth telling. Our own story makes sense of our experiences, gives meaning to our existence, and confers significance to the life lived.
Stories are powerful: They speak to the soul and transmit from heart to heart, starting with the teller's, ending with the receiver's. They delight, enchant, inspire, challenge, motivate. They resonate with our own experience, touch the core of our being, ascribe meaning to our existence, confer significance upon the life lived, and ultimately transform us - gently, invisibly, and unobtrusively - for the better.
Stories are immortal: They make a permanent imprint on our minds. We forget facts but remember stories. Just think of it. Intrapersonal struggles, interpersonal conflict, and international squabbles have been with us since the dawn of history and continue to dominate news headlines. But Romeo and Juliet still tops the list of love stories; no intergenerational tragedy equals King Lear's; every ides of March recalls Julia Caesar's demise; and no lessons are more concise, engaging, inspiring, soul-piercing, challenging, and memorable than Jesus' parables.
If play is to children what words are to adults, then the personal story is the essence of what every human being wishes to express. Children and adults alike are crying out for their own stories to be told, heard, understood, appreciated, validated, and recognized. Maya Angelou pleads, "There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you." Salman Rushdie warns, "Those who do not have power over the story that dominates their lives, the power to retell it, rethink it, reconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change, truly are powerless." As play therapists, we are in a unique position to help our clients tell their stories. By helping them create structure, organize, beautify, change, and preserve their own stories, you will have gifted them with the very best.