Storytelling at Work
May 29, 2019
My Vision for Fostering a Revolution of Inspired Storytelling

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Although I have been deeply involved in the world of storytelling for the past seven years, I think it's fair to say that I am relatively new to the game. Anthropologists tell us that oral storytelling emerged about the same time as language -- approximately 100,000 years ago. Based on my calculations, that puts me about 99,994 years late to the party. Oh well! Better late than never, eh? As I understand it, Grandma Moses didn't start painting until she was 64 and Abraham didn't get circumcised until he was 101. Some things take time, I guess.

That's one of the cool things about storytelling. Done well, it has a way of helping people experience that which is BEYOND time. Not "out there" stuff only noted in holy books. But "in there" stuff, embedded within each and every one of us.

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And this is precisely what inspires me, these days, about storytelling. Storytelling is one of the simplest ways to spark awareness, community, wisdom, and behavior change. Indeed, it is why I wrote my new book, Storytelling for the Revolution and why I wrote my previous book, Storytelling at Work. It is also why I deliver keynotes, workshops, and Wisdom Circles.

This, of course, is all "well and good", but not all that remarkable -- the kind of life story that could easily be dismissed as one man's attempt to create a cool way to make a living. But that would be a fiction. That is not my ultimate goal.

I'm not just interested in selling books and getting a few good pay days. What is way MORE interesting to me, is sparking a revolution of meaningful storytelling on planet Earth -- the kind of storytelling that uplifts, inspires, and awakens -- a simple way, available to ALL human beings, to elevate the conversation.

Towards that end (and to answer a question I was asked, recently, in a Mexican cafe), I share with you, now, my current vision for how I intend to accomplish the above. If you see yourself plugging into this vision in any way, let me hear from you. I'm just an email way.

1. FACILITATE COMMUNITY STORYTELLING GATHERINGS -- a chance for people to share their most meaningful stories and to begin to process of shaping the NEW story they want to live.

2. GET MY STORYTELLING BOOKS into as many hands as possible.

3. CREATE AN AUDIO BOOK, so people can listen to my stories, not just read them.

4. DELIVER KEYNOTES and WORKSHOPS to forward thinking organizations

5. DEVELOP A MODEL for how schools can leverage the power of storytelling to create community and spark lifelong learning -- beginning with an Islamic school in Australia where the work has already begun.

6. COACH movers and shakers committed to becoming transformative storytellers.

7. TRAIN THOUSANDS of people how to facilitate Wisdom Circles in their communities.

8. CHOOSE TO TELL A LIFE ENHANCING STORY whenever the opportunity arises.

9. CONTINUE PRODUCING my storytelling blog to support aspiring storytellers

10. COLLECT THE FAVORITE STORIES of living sages, teachers, and Masters -- then produce a book of them to demonstrate how ALL spiritual paths are basically telling the same story.

PS: If you want to host/coordinate a community storytelling gathering in your town, village, or city, contact me and we'll tawk soon: mitch@ideachampions.com

Big thanks to Carey Berkus for asking me what my vision is.
Photo: Evelyne Pouget

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What people are saying about Storytelling for the Revolution

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May 13, 2019
Two Soulful Men Singing

Storytelling for the Revolution

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May 10, 2019
WHY WE TELL STORIES

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Mention the word "storytelling" to most people and they will immediately think fairy tale, CNN spin doctor, or teenager explaining why they haven't done their homework. Good for entertainment and distraction, perhaps, but not much more. Guess what? Not true. Storytelling is the most powerful communication tool the human race has ever conceived. Why? Because it delivers the goods in at least nine different ways:

1. TO DISCOVER WHAT WE ALREADY KNOW: I don't know what your nationality is. Nor do I know what your religion, philosophy, or IQ is. But there is one thing I do know: You are a human being -- a member of a species known as "homo sapiens" -- a Latin phrase that translates as "the wise ones".

A quick glance at the evening news is likely to reveal otherwise, of course, but if you a dig deeper, you cannot help but notice that our species has learned a thing or two along the way. And not just how to use our opposable thumbs, make fire, and open 25,000 Starbucks. Like how to be compassionate, for example. Like how to be grateful. Like how to be of service to others -- all aspects of what it means to "know thyself."

All of us have had at least one "know thyself" moment. For some of us, this moment may have been sparked by the birth of a child. For some, it was a near death experience. For others, maybe it was meditation, meeting a spiritual Master, or being on the receiving end of a stranger's kind deed. For most of us, these moments are fleeting. Like dreams, they quickly fade from memory. But out of sight, does not necessarily mean out of mind. Invisible is not the same thing as non-existent. Our "wise one" moments are simply hidden from view. They are merely hiding. And where they are hiding is in our stories -- the life experiences we've had that, once told, give shape to insight, feeling, and deep lessons learned.

"Don't tell me the moon is shining," said Anton Chekov, "show me the glint of light on broken glass." That's why stories are so powerful. They give us a way to see the light of our lives reflected and a chance to share that light.

Tuning into our stories allows us to reverse engineer what we know -- to decode and decipher the hidden wisdom of our lives. Just like the atom contains protons, neutrons, and electrons, our stories also contain essence -- the invisible distillate of our life experiences. The microscope we need to see this distillate? Our own curiosity, much in the way an archeologist is moved to dig beneath the surface of things. But curiosity is only half of what's required. The other half? Speaking our experiences aloud! Because, more often than not, it is in the telling of our stories that light is shed on our wisdom. And the more that light that is shed, the more of our wisdom is unearthed. Now, we don't just know. We know we know.

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2. TO CAPTURE ATTENTION: This just in: The attention span of the average human being is one second less than the attention span of a goldfish. According to Canadian researchers, the average goldfish can concentrate for nine seconds. The average homo sapien? Eight.

The reasons for our distractability are many, but the biggest can be attributed to our increasingly digitalized lifestyle. Bottom line, there's simply too much coming at us to stay focused on anything for very long. And so, we look for shortcuts. We tweet. We text. We check our Facebook news feed.

Knowing that you, dear reader, have only eight-second attention span, I am going to cut to the chase and give you one more reason to tell your stories. They capture attention! They help your audience (whether its one person at the dinner table or a thousand in a ballroom) unplug from their mental chatter and focus. Assuming you have something of value to share, it can only happen if people are listening. And a story, well-told, is the simplest, fastest, most effective way to do that.

3. TO CONNECT WITH OTHERS: What do most people on a first date do besides wonder why the person they are talking to looks older than their Match.com picture? They tell stories. That's how people get to know each other quickly. That's how we connect. Because in the telling of our stories, the other person gets a peak of who we are beneath the surface -- our values, our interests, and what moves us. Yes, on a first date, we might dress up. We might put on cologne or perfume. We might tell a joke or two, But the most effective way to get closer to the other is to tell your stories. Boundaries dissolve. Rapport is established. Doors open.

4. TO ELEVATE THE CONVERSATION: 90% of the news you are exposed to on any given day is bad news -- updates on death, destruction, war, corruption, fires, floods, and terrorism. That's why journalists like to say, "If it bleeds, it leads." Bottom line, human beings have what sociologists call a "negativity bias" -- a phenomenon that can be traced to our amygdala -- the survivalist part of our brain that is our built in danger detector.

If you hear something rustling in the leaves, your amydala interprets it as danger -- a possible tiger ready to pounce, instead of the gentle rustling of the wind. Get enough people focused on the negative and you have the state of the world today, everyone primed to expect the worst.

But it doesn't have to be that way. We don't always have to default to worst case scenarios. And that's where storytelling comes in -- your chance to change the narrative -- to tell stories that uplift, awaken, and inspire. I am not suggesting you ignore the bad news. No. I'm suggesting you consider your options. You can, of course, continue the habitual dissemination of the bad news or you can help break the trance by sharing some of the good.

5. TO TRANSMIT TACIT KNOWLEDGE: Years ago, when people wanted to learn a trade they would apprentice themselves to a Master -- someone who deeply understood how to accomplish a particular outcome in the most elegant way possible. Indeed, in Europe, the guild system was set up to facilitate this kind of knowledge transfer. Those days are gone. Few people, in the 21st century, have the time or humility to become apprentices anymore. Now we google what we need to learn. Or maybe download a three-minute video. And while there are definitely things that can be learned this way, the deep transmission of tacit knowledge (i.e. the hard-to-communicate-essence of a particular realm of understanding) doesn't happen this way.

Still, there does remain, in our world today, a classic technique of knowledge transfer that remains largely untapped. And that is storytelling. When a story is told -- assuming it is the right story, told in a compelling way, at the right time -- it has the potential to get to the heart of the matter quickly. And by so doing, it has the potential to spark great insight, awareness, and meaning -- an ancient "teaching technology" with the power to inform everything the listener does from that moment forward, and HOW they do it.

Indeed, since the beginning of time, storytelling has been one of the most effective ways the world's wisdom traditions have passed on their knowledge to the next generation.

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6. TO INCREASE LISTENING: Here's the paradox: No matter how powerful a story might be, it will have no impact unless there is someone listening to it. And listening, these days, is in woeful short supply. Most people who strike the appearance of listening, aren't. They are impatiently waiting their turn to speak. "Conversational endurance" is what I call it. And it seems to be getting worse with each passing tweet.

Is there any way to reverse this phenomenon -- any way to build the atrophied muscle of listening in this world? Yes, there is. And, if you are up for the paradox of it all, storytelling is the way to go. Because when you tell a story, assuming you tell it in a compelling way, the people on the receiving end get to practice listening. They get to experience what it is like not to interrupt. They get to experience what it's like not to counter with a fact, question, or objection. They get to feel something. In short, they get to practice the art of listening. And, as the old saw goes, "practice makes perfect."

My hope? The more people listen to your stories, the more their listening muscle will be exercised and the more able they will be listen to other people even in non-story situations.

7. TO HONOR OUR ELDERS:
My father was a storyteller. Not professionally, but in his every day life. Other than yelling and stomping around the house, storytelling was his preferred means of communication. My response, as an all-knowing teenager, was to ignore, deflect, or judge his storytelling. "Not again," I would think to myself. "Jesus, I've heard this story a thousand times before." Heard? Yes. But listened? No. More often than not, I interpreted my father's storytelling as either a bogus way to hog the conversation or a feeble attempt to teach me something I already knew. And while I was, even as a young boy, very much into learning, I was not into being taught.

Years passed. Many. It wasn't until I was 45 that I understood the game I was playing. Addicted as I was to shooting the messenger, I was missing out on the message -- one that was hiding in my father's stories.

Methinks my little story-resisting dance with my father is not all that uncommon. Indeed, it's a phenomenon that plays out everywhere -- not just from child to parent, but from generation to generation. Driven by our adolescent need to individuate, even the most conscious of human beings have a tendency to ignore the elders in their life -- dismissing them as old-fashioned, irrelevant, or just not cool enough.

This just in: NOT TRUE! The stories of our parents, their parents, and the generations who preceded them are absolutely relevant. Indeed, they are part of our lineage and the collective unconscious of planet Earth, having, embedded within them, great value and meaning -- if only we would listen. The indigenous people of the world know this, big time. And always have. It is how the wisdom of their cultures have survived, one beautiful story at a time.

So... the next time you see an "old" person, realize they are not just old, but are an ELDER, an influential person of your tribe or community infused with the wisdom that comes from experience, even if they are not officially designated as a "sage." They may not have the same politics, philosophy, or spiritual path as you, but they have something more important -- and that is the potential to be a catalyst of great insight, knowledge, and wisdom.

Forget about the package for a moment. Forget about your judgments and your previous relationship with them. Just listen. Honor your elders. They have a gift for you and the gift is wrapped in STORY. All you have to do is open it.

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8. TO INSPIRE ACTION: Storytelling is kind of Swiss army knife. It has many different uses and can be applied in many ways. But ultimately, its purpose is to inspire action, even if that action is just a new way of thinking about something that will lead to an action in the world.

Bottom line, storytelling is a tool designed to spark change -- and the change begins in the listener's mind. Teachers, politicians, and spiritual leaders tell stories because they, ultimately, want their audiences to do something different -- to act in a way that is consistent with the message they are delivering -- whether that message is a plea for more kindness, perseverance, creativity, social responsibility, or self-esteem.

A story, well-told, activates people's ability to shift how they perceive what's possible. It's a tool, a lever, a way to move things. And how they move things is to inspire people to move things.

You have a story to tell. I know you do. Actually, you have many stories to tell. Some of them are expressions of memorable experiences you've had. Some of them are the retelling of stories you've heard or read that shifted the way you experienced yourself or the world. Both kinds of stories are pearls. Both need to be shared with the people in your life. Go for it!

9. TO SPARK INSIGHT AND WISDOM IN OTHERS: Human beings spend a lot of time in survival mode. Making a living. Keep a roof over their head. Finding food. You know, the basics. The amygdala rules, the default condition of our brain -- the part of our psyche that is on constant lookout for danger, more interested in surviving than thriving. And because this survival-seeking part of our species is usually dominant, we are not always alert to the more subtle promptings of the heart, the higher octave messages coming our way, variably known as hunches, insights, and epiphanies.

Something deep within us knows this. Which is why we go to church or temple on the weekends -- to take a break from the 9-5 and tune in to the timeless.

Stories have the potential to deliver the same kind of elevating truths we seek out in our religious practices. On any day of the week. At any time of the day. No dress code required. Because embedded in the stories we hear are a kind or radioactive isotope of wisdom -- insight sparking mojo with the potential to activate the sleeping sage within us.

That's one of the reasons why storytelling is so powerful. It democratizes wisdom. It takes the ancient truths out of the buildings we've constructed to worship God and makes them available to everyone -- no holy man or holy woman required. Just our willingness to share our stories. And everyone has a front row seat.

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Illustrations: gapingvoid
Storytelling for the Revolution
MitchDitkoff.com

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 11:28 PM | Comments (0)

May 07, 2019
No More Stories to Tell

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Let's assume for the moment that you are intrigued by the notion of telling your stories. Fantastic. Great. Wonderful. So...you... begin... thinking about the memorable moments of truth in your life and start writing them down -- at least the titles, that is. The more titles you write, the more stories come to mind -- stories from your childhood, first love, travels, relationships, work, quest for meaning, accidents, victories, near death experiences, strange lights in the sky, and so on and so forth.

Let's say you top out at 359. But let's take it one step further. Let's say you actually WRITE your stories down. But not only write them -- you TELL them, also, until every story of yours has been told.

You could, of course, choose to tell your stories, AGAIN, to other people in other ways. You could, of course, choose to turn your stories into screenplays, novels, songs, sitcoms, i-phone apps, or webinars. But you don’t. You feel complete, every story in you having been told.

So there you are with no more need tell a story (not even the story of why you are no longer telling stories). Like a small puddle evaporating after a thunderstorm, your need to tell your stories has completely disappeared.

Your friends, accustomed to your story telling, express their disappointment, but you say nothing. You say nothing because you have nothing to say. You have no point to make, no wisdom to impart, nothing to elucidate.

The words you would normally use to populate your tales seem to have gone south for the winter, vacationing, as they are, somewhere on a remote island, cocktail party chit chat for the night.

Though you are fully awake and can see many things happening around you, you have no need to connect the dots, no need for a plot, characters, conflict, or a resolution.

Everything is what it is. You are what you are, breathing, wanting nothing, needing nothing, enjoying the time before the first story has been told. You think of telling THAT story, but don't. You let it go. Like the milkweed floating by.

Excerpted from this book

Not excerpted from this book
This guy wrote both of them

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ABOUT THE BLOG

Storytelling at Work is a blog about the power of personal storytelling – why it matters and what you can do to more effectively communicate your stories – on or off the job. Inspired by the book of the same name, the blog features "moment of truth" stories by the author, Mitch Ditkoff, plus inspired rants, quotes, and guest submissions by readers.

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Storytelling for the Revolution is Mitch Ditkoff's newly published book about the power of personal storytelling to elevate the conversation on planet Earth. Provocative. Evocative. And fun. YOU have stories to tell. This book will help you tell them.
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"The world is not made of atoms," wrote the poet, Muriel Rukeyser. "It's made of stories." Learn how to discover, honor, and unpack the stories of yours that show up "on the job" in Mitch Ditkoff's award-winning 2015 book, Storytelling at Work.
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