Since ancient times ideas and values embedded in mythic stories have educated, inspired and motivated listeners.
Martin Luther King did not just “..have a dream.” He communicated his dream in words, stories and metaphor. In doing so, he became a mythic hero and the catalyst for a social movement.
The word myth means story. But a genuine myth is not just any story; it is a story of an encounter with universal human energies and experiences. It is a door to another world.
A myth is more than; it’s a metaphor for life experiences.
Through stories, the chaos of our life experience is put into a simple linear form by the storyteller. This somehow makes it easier to bear, more comforting to listen to and learn. Ironically though, real life is not linear. Conflicting plotlines is actually closer to the truth of reality.
When we think of myths and legends, we mainly think of tales that have been elaborated and expanded over a long period of time.
Many of them have their roots in real characters and events in long distant times, but with retelling and elaboration they have been built up into great ‘ripping yarns’ – or at least they seem so by current cynical standards.
In today’s world if we approach myth as fact, it could clearly be considered ridiculous. However to approach myth purely as fact, is to miss the point.
Similarly, to view your life as ‘nothing but the facts’ is to miss an opportunity for a wonderful adventure, an encounter with the unknown of the universe and the ongoing dilemmas of human drama. However, if we approach life and myth in the mythic frame of reference, then we take the ‘hero’s journey of life; we experience life as wondrous and can see the mystical in the ordinary.
The strength and power of myth is not as fact, but as metaphor, and it is in this way that the mythic stories speak to us.
Stories as Metaphor
Stories are a complex, multilevel form of metaphor and because of that they engage and hold a listener’s attention better than a string of disconnected facts.
Stories are more easily remembered than facts.
An important part of the power of story is that it’s empowering for a listener to make a creative leap and connect the story-metaphor to the story of his or her own life. Recognising and creatively grasping an analogy is a way of personally taking on or embodying information – as experience. So the story becomes almost real-life.
Choosing stories and styles to tell
Sometimes it is in the choosing of just the right story to make a point that the connective power of story is manifested.
Wisdom tales such as Japanese Zen stories, Middle Eastern Sufi tales, Greek Aesop’s fables, Chinese Taoist parables and Indian tales have long been culturally used as teaching tools and are great sources for metaphorical tales.
Personal experiential stories can be useful when they rise to the level of metaphor and go beyond the experience of a single person; instead connecting to the experience of many.
In today’s world, as well as choosing the right story, it is the artfulness of the storyteller (the creator) and/or the medium used they choose, as well as the appropriate story that supports the communication needs of a given situation. Those needs may be to just tell, or it could be to sell.
One of the most empowering advantages of using stories to communicate is that over time, a tale can take root like a seed, and blossom into new awareness and understanding. Many myths and stories were traditionally of an oral tradition, and therefore as a series of images they seem to somehow enter the listener, incubate and later emerge as an insight or feeling. This is perhaps why they hold such power over us, as they become our own story.
Why is story so powerful?
Rabbi Jacob Kranz, the Maggid of Dubno, an 18th century Eastern European rabbi, was once asked, “Why are stories so powerful? Why do they have an impact and penetrate to the heart of every matter?” His legendary reply was to tell the following story:
NAKED TRUTH and PARABLE
Naked Truth walked down the street one day. People turned their eyes away.
Parable arrived, draped in decoration. People greeted Parable with celebration.
Naked Truth sat alone, sad and unattired, “Why are you so miserable?” Parable inquired.
Naked Truth replied, “I’m not welcome anymore. No one wants to see me. They chase me from their door.”
“It is hard to look at Naked Truth,” Parable explained. “Let me dress you up a bit. Your welcome will be gained.”
Parable dressed Naked Truth in story’s fine attire, with metaphor, poignant prose, and plots to inspire.
With laughter and tears and adventure to unveil, together they went forth to spin a tale.
People opened their doors and served them their best.
Naked Truth dressed in story was a welcome guest.
The stories we hear throughout our lives help to shape the way we perceive both our personal world and the complex context in which we live.
It is ironic that seemingly solid stories shift and reconfigure as we remember, retell, and reinterpret our memories over time.
It is through this that we attempt to make sense of our lives.
Photo via stock.xchng user djayo
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