Storytelling in Times of Crisis
Storytelling is about creating connection – it’s an essential part of building trust and relationships with clients, customers, affiliates and investors. This blog is about the role of storytelling in times of crisis and how it helps us survive them.
As a Storytelling Consultant and someone who worked on the relationship between story and trauma for over two decades, it is sobering, tragic and painful to follow the crisis in Eastern Europe and around the globe.
We know that the war and suffering of today are tomorrow’s trauma, which for the most part will be left untreated and unhealed.
So what has storytelling got to do with war? Does it even have a role to play when lives are being destroyed every second?
While stories don’t stop bombs or bullets, nor bring back lost loved ones, stories are a form of power in times of crisis. Stories are a different and very important form of power.
A different form of power
For so long history, with its claim to objective truth, was given prominence in how traumatic events were remembered and who remembered them. That has changed over the last two decades as stories about experiences that were once silenced are now being told.
Stories bear witness to those experiences and their aftermath.
Stories are the voices of those who managed to survive the despots and their war machines. They are also the voices for those who didn’t survive.
And stories are the memories for the individual and for the community in the present and the future. That’s vital for the other form of survival – how do we make sense of what we’ve witnessed?
If stories connect us, then in times of crises, they connect us with the past, help us emerge from the silence and build relationships in the future.
How Stories give Meaning to Experiences beyond our Reach
It’s the stories we tell that help us give meaning when meaning is well beyond our reach. In times of crisis the writer Ursula K Le Guin shows how art and story do that:
“One of the functions of art is to give people the words to know their own experience. There are always areas of vast silence in any culture, and part of an artist’s job is to go into those areas and come back from the silence with something to say.“
I’m sure another great writer, Maya Angelou, was also referring to storytelling as a sense-making tool when she said that in times of trouble, the artists go to work. The Nobel Laureate for literature, Toni Morrison, echoes this sentiment. Here’s how she put it:
“Certain kinds of trauma visited on peoples are so deep, so cruel, that […] only writers can translate such trauma and turn sorrow into meaning, […] A writer’s life and work are not a gift to mankind; they are its necessity.”
It’s artists and writer that help create the future out of the silences and the ruins of the past.
And a society that doesn’t support and nourish art and artists leaves itself defenceless in times of crises.