Why our stories need to be told

2014-07-10 10:00

Why do we tell our stories?

Actually, a more accurate question would be: why should we tell our stories?

Firstly, everyone has a story. Mostly, these stories are about towering courage and fortitude during which people have overcome great adversity and hardship.

All of us who were privileged to be born into the 20th century lived through two world wars and various regional wars, and there is hardly a single human being who was not affected by those wars.

Then there were race and rights wars, and terrible ones like those in Vietnam and Angola.

There were experiences of the consequences of economic depression – and all that goes with that – and there was apartheid and Nazism. And yet here we are.

Those stories must inspire this generation, especially when we tell them triumphantly: “Look! They did their damnedest and here we are, still standing and stronger for the experience.”

There are funny stories of flouted liquor laws and romantic interludes across the colour bar (which I always thought was the “kalabah” when my elders spat it out). There are the tragic stories but the tragedy always ennobled and deepened our humanity.

We have to tell these stories, otherwise we will never know how extraordinarily great we are. We will sadly be defined by others who know us, but only partially.

We must tell our stories because only then will we know the value of being listened to and heard.

And if we are gracious, we will listen to another and before we know it, our nature and character as a nation will change and we will become a nation of listeners instead of what we are now: screamers and whingers, opening our mouths only to demand.

Our children, for example, cannot ever inhabit the world we lived in but we get frustrated with them when they will not, or perhaps cannot, fully appreciate their freedom.

If we can convince them to listen to us for a brief moment and feel the feelings as we tell the story of our lives, we will sketch another world, provide another set of options for them that they certainly would not have thought of otherwise.

The storyteller is the ultimate beneficiary. The storyteller remembers things honestly and puts the story together.

If we ask the storyteller to consider the victories and to gather them in that one story – an “ambush” gratitude list, a tally of blessings alongside everything else they have lived through, and then provide an audience who listens lovingly and generously, just imagine what that must do for and individual’s emotional wellbeing.

That is why we must tell our stories and listen to the stories of others. So let’s start the Storytellers Movement to heal and ennoble all South Africans.

Oliphant is a co-founder of the Storytellers Movement, which aims to get people to share their stories

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