Why is Storytelling Important?
Stories recorded in history reflect the experiences of the individual, the community and the nation and create a public narrative which can shape identities for generations to come. Stories have been prevalent articulations of culture and identity since ancient times, from cave paintings to traditional dances to hip hop culture to social media, and more. Stories reflect our perception as a collective consciousness, of what we believe and how we perceive the world to be and our place in it. Art, religion, philosophy, history, politics, technology and more, are filled with stories and depict the ways we understand how things work and the ways in which we are inherently different from one another and yet still intrinsically connected.
Our interconnectedness is an essential ingredient to storytelling. Often, in history, only one narrative is understood and taught to future generations, which defines only one side of the truth and leaves the rest of the truth hidden. When one side of the truth is left unspoken or is suppressed, this creates an injustice, a fractured reality. Colonialism in Africa is a great example of this injustice. The telling of stories is an integral part of African history, passing moral values and lessons learned down for generations to come. Despite this, the post-colonial world represents a very one -sided version of history, where a whole other side of the story has been dramatically and tragically altered, if not, wiped out. Despite the elite’s attempt to silence one part of the truth, the energetic and emotional scars of this unspoken truth are still prevalent and remain embedded within our world today. This is why it is important to expose the truths of all individuals in order to write a true story, equally representative of all who participated. Everyone deserves an opportunity to express and to record their own personal truths in the ongoing storybook of our human experience.
Stories are Eclectic and Diverse
It is important to recognize that stories and storytellers come in all shapes, forms, sounds, scents and colors and our communities should be open to listening and to accepting the diversity of all stories. Some people express themselves best verbally, while others do so non-verbally, perhaps through music, movement and dance, or through visual arts.
By discovering the most effective personal outlet for telling a story, creative expression can significantly help people to become better communicators, improve self-confidence and self-esteem levels and help people learn how to better cope with stress and heal from the wounds of trauma.
You Cannot Heal what you Conceal
Exposing a personal narrative can be intimidating, especially in societies that stigmatize against certain realities or certain truths. Many truths are shunned, quieted, neglected and disregarded as less important. If an individual feels nurtured in a safe space and has the right support from others, they can feel empowered and emboldened to tell their story instead of ashamed. The consequences of suppressing one’s truth can lead to long term emotional, psychological, spiritual and even physical pain.
There is an African proverb that states that you cannot heal what you conceal; When we shed light on our inner most selves, we can give form to our emotions, our deep mental and spiritual spaces. By revealing what’s within, we can begin to confront our personal truth head on, and we can slowly but surely begin to heal our wounds.
Wounds are holes where light can enter into our bodies, shine warmth into our hearts to dissolve our hurt. With the medicine of time, love and support, these wounds can turn into scars, which are simply our body’s natural way of healing and recording our physical experiences in this life. There is no reason to be ashamed. There is no reason to forget or regret. The past does not define us. For we can rise above our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual scars and use them to make us stronger and to help drive us forward.
Storytelling Builds Community
Group storytelling sessions are powerful experiences that create a valuable platform for mutual understanding, increased empathy and a sense of connectedness. When an individual finds the courage to make themselves vulnerable through sharing their story, they redefine their past and start to take ownership of their lives by shaping their narrative. Once one person opens up, others can begin to feel more comfortable opening up too. The act of sharing our truth to others and becoming vulnerable with each other is empowering.
When we share stories, we create a bridge of mutual understanding and empathy. We create a platform for the birth of unity and community. When we share our wounds, we realize we don’t have to feel so alone anymore. When we realize that other people have experienced what we have experienced or have felt what we have felt, we can stop feeling so ashamed and afraid of our truths and realize that it’s okay, we too can rise above this.
Storytelling Helps to Heal the Wounds of Trauma
Trauma overwhelms the senses and causes the fight or flight response to freeze. This creates a numbing sensation or blocking of the senses, where an individual can often get stuck in a space of time, and their developmental capabilities get paused. Traumatic events can be caused by physical and emotional abuse or neglect and can cause long term damage to a child’s developmental growth. If suppressed and un-dealt with, trauma can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is extremely hard for an individual who suffers from PTSD to reconstruct a comprehensive story of their past.
Many people all around the world, including in Zambia, experience traumatic events and suffer as a result. Emotional pain is often seen as weak and thus is suppressed and quieted due to cultural stigmas and learned negative behavior. It is imperative to encourage people, especially children, who are still raw from their traumatic experiences, to express themselves and get the hurt out of them before it sinks deeper into them. This is where the role of storytelling can become of use and come into play. By telling stories, we can begin to process and understand the excess information in our lives and its meaning and relevance to us and to our world. When trauma occurs, we can either let it define us and eventually let it lead to our downfall, or we can use it as a tool to widen our perspective, open our minds, build our strength, fuel our creativity, move forward and grow.
“If I focus on the story of the history and not the story of what came out of it, which is a story of survival, triumph, and love, then I could miss out on the healing.”
(Jackson. S., The Healing Power of Storytelling)
Healing happens when an individual is ready to help themselves and ready to open up those painful memories inside of themselves and confront them head on. Turning pain into art can be a very restorative process and can guide people onto the path to healing.
Vulnerable children may often experience challenges in trying to communicate their personal feelings and thoughts, especially to adults and to peers. Vulnerable youth in Zambia face a range of challenges in their lives, including but not limited to, gender based violence (GBV), abuse within and outside of the family, neglect and abandonment, poverty, lack of access to healthcare and/or education, drug and substance abuse, and HIV/AIDS.
Storytelling can be used as a tool to remove barriers of communication to express the emotions caused by these challenging experiences in life. Recovery and healing begins as soon as an individual comes out of an experience. The body starts to heal and the mind tries to process and make sense of everything that just happened. The process of healing will be amplified if an individual can learn how to reconstruct how the trauma affected them and what it took away from them when they were experiencing it. One of the most powerful ways towards reconstructing one’s experience is through their story.