Storytellers on Facebook have been discussing their responsibility to their audience. You’ll find a few of my thoughts on the subject below.
I sincerely want to hear from y’all on this point.
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The Storytellers Channel
A Storyteller’s Responsibility
I was an only child until I was 10. I was always clamoring for greater freedom. I wanted to cross the street by myself. I wanted to ride the bus. I wanted to stay out later. Every boundary crossed brought another I wanted to push beyond. This pattern of pushing the envelope has been a lifelong habit.
My parents shared a common retort, “When you prove you’re more responsible, we’ll give you more freedom.”
This set the pattern of my taking on more and more responsibility. In my fifties I woke up one day to find myself stretched thin. I was serving on several boards of directors and frequently taking on tasks at work I should have delegated. It was as if I awoke from a trance where in my search for freedom, I kept carrying greater and greater responsibilities.
It was a revelation, “Who am I trying to prove I’m sufficiently responsible to, to be free?”
I stepped down from several boards and began to work on better developing my staff, so I could feel comfortable delegating. I also worked harder on effectively communicating what I wanted versus throwing people in the deep end and criticizing those who sank.
I began to consciously develop as a leader.
I believe everyone is a leader, in one way or another. Someone is always watching, listening, using us each and every one as an example of what to do or what not to do.
Peter Senge said, “Leaders do three things: they initiate and sustain change and they grow other leaders.”
We speak to influence people. We speak expecting a response.
All of this sets the scene for my sense of a storyteller’s responsibility.
Are we purely entertainers? Distractors from the woes of day to day concerns? Or have we greater responsibilities?
Recently, this argument has dominated the Facebook Storytellers Group.
I’ve a BFA in Theatre with an emphasis in Directing. I came to the theatre solely as an entertainer. My professors taught me the purpose of theatre is catharsis. The word has many definitions. I’ve discerned it to mean “release”. To ease the pent-up stresses of life. A good laugh, a good cry, an empathetic insight can relieve our audience, aiding their rejuvenation.
Consequently, I feel it’s my responsibility as a storyteller to touch my audiences’ hearts. To get past their rational barriers to their emotions. To soften their hearts. I tell to influence. I tell in an “entertaining” manner, so they will pay attention. “Attention must be paid.” Unfortunately, no, we must earn that attention, every time.
That said, if you’re going to work that hard, shouldn’t you have a point of view? Shouldn’t all your “sound and fury” signify something? What a waste to simply distract your audience without giving them something; something to chew on, something they’ll want to talk about, to share.
A quick little story. Whenever the men on my dad’s job-sites behaved in a manner he thought insufficiently appreciative of our customers, he would gather us around a bucket of water. He would tell us to, “pay attention to my finger.” He would then pull his finger out and ask,
“How long did that hole where my finger was last?”
Of course, the water had filled the space immediately. After the men had mumbled their responses, he would say,
“That’s how long our customers can’t get along without us. We need them more than they need us.”
He would then correct the behavior he did not want to see again.
I realized today how many ways I could use that simple image of pulling my finger out of liquid and acknowledging how quickly the void was refilled. Or the speed of change. Or a myriad of other situations. And yet it will always be tied in my mind to my dad’s admonition to treat the customer respectfully. Because I’ve lived with that story for decades. That’s the power of a story to influence.
I continue to strive to entertain, but even when I’m distracting a child, it’s in service of some behavior I want them to either cease or embrace.
In my humble opinion story is one of the most effective ways to positively influence people. You’ve got their attention, don’t waste the opportunity. Be a true entertainer and give them something to entertain.
Here endeth the sermon. 🙂
I Want to Hear from You
Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know what stories or storytelling topics you’d like me to explore.
Til next time,