Gemma Gillard from Truth Be Told looks at how we can use stories to connect and build community.
So it’s National Storytelling Week and I wonder how many stories have you told today?
I don’t mean child-on-knee, book-in-hand, I mean, how many times have you said something like this: “It was terrible to hear about…” or “Wasn’t it hilarious last night…” or “Do you remember when…” to whoever you’re chatting to at the time?
It’s good to talk
Research shows that 65% of our talking time today will be telling tales just like this.
We are constantly recalling experiences, retelling events, recollecting memories. It’s how we’ve been created. We think in narratives all day long and when we externalise these narratives (AKA tell a story), the listener gets much more than just information.
Studies have shown that not only are the language processing parts of our brain activated by a story, but any other area of our brain used when experiencing the events of that story are too. For example, If someone tells us about their delicious meal, our sensory cortex lights up. If it’s about running a marathon, our motor cortex gets active.
A gift from God
God has wired us to be enthralled by and engaged in storytelling. This isn’t a big surprise when you consider that He is the greatest storyteller of all time and we’re created in His image.
God reveals himself most through the intricately woven stories in the Bible. The same stories that we, in His great mercy and grace, get to live in the light of.
In short, storytelling is a powerful tool. But what if you don’t have the chance to ‘externalise your narrative’? What if no one is interested in your story anymore? You might get occasionally asked “How are you?” but not “Tell me about your first love.” or “What was it like when you had little children?”.
In a typical week in the UK, more than 225,000 people over 65 will not have the chance to speak to a single person. Just think about that for a moment.
That’s just you or me but fast forward a few years. Not a single thought, idea, experience, memory, or story shared with anyone. No one is interested enough to ask.
At our Truth Be Told group we took the time to ask Sylvia. In her career as a midwife, she had delivered hundreds of babies and gained enormous wisdom and experience.
Every week when our group (made up of mums and toddlers) visited her care home, we would ask what it was like and she would talk about her life openly and lucidly. Some stories were crystal clear to her and others were an attempt to make sense of her surroundings through the lens of her dementia.
She joined in with the nursery rhymes and the bible-based story without fail and with quick wit, always happy to wear the funny glasses or come up with a character’s name.
But what she told us about without doubt, every week, was the picture in her room of a little boy on her lap. She treasured that picture and the feeling of purpose it gave her.
So after 10 weeks of our Truth Be Told group visits, of Sylvia winning our children over, we gave her a new picture for her room. It was a picture of her holding the hands of her new little friend Sophia with who she had shared new experiences and old memories. Full of life and full of purpose once again.
Stories are powerful
Most of us are well aware of the ubiquitous pandemic of loneliness that is gripping our nation. And being compassionate, socially active, justice-seeking people, we want to do something to help.
Truth Be Told exists to show everyone that they’re invited to belong and we do this by training and equipping churches with the simplest ways to ‘do intergenerational’ as a means to make a transformative difference to the lost and lonely.
We encourage the sharing of stories from everyone of every age in the group but also present the stories of Jesus in a creative and captivating way, distilling them into the simplest of truths, graspable by all.
That said, you don’t need to launch a project to make a person of any age a little less lonely. Asking an interesting question of another is so simple and yet so profound.
This week, be intentional. Have a question up your sleeve and ask it. Ditch the “How are you?” and instead, go for the “Tell me about your old school uniform” or the “What was the first thing you learnt to cook?”
Then ask another question, then another and see where it takes you. Before you know it, you’ll be knee-deep in story. Together.
Gemma Gillard is the founder of Truth Be Told, an intergenerational storytelling charity that promotes social inclusion and advances the Christian faith.
For more information visit www.truthbetold.org.uk