"You’re never going to kill storytelling, because it’s built in the human plan. We come with it.” - Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid's Tale
For me, this quote sums up the power of stories. Sometimes stories are seen as fluffy and not as serious as facts and figures but before we had statistical models and survey data, we had stories. They were used as education, entertainment and to inspire.
I still remember being in reception class at school sitting and listening to my teacher telling a story. Being transported to other worlds and having great adventures – all from the safety of my primary school! It gave me a sense of wonder and curiosity that has lasted to this day.
When I ask people to tell a story during the Gathering Stories course (more details later), I am always surprised by how the person’s face lights up and you get caught up in the telling of the story and waiting for the conclusion (or at least where it has got to so far!).
To deny the power and evidence of stories is to deny who we are as humans. Even if we don’t agree with someone’s opinion, we cannot reject their right to own their story and tell it. These recent pictures of homeless accommodation in Manchester show how people really live and then it is down to us to respond how we want to. Do they make you have an empathy for all people in this situation, do they make you angry, or are you motivated to campaign on this issue? Stories generate emotions that are hard to ignore. They can also provide evidence that change is needed.
Stories can help to bring about social change. In a world that is increasingly divided, they can help to break down barriers. We come across in our work in the voluntary and community sector stories that are often hidden – they can tell hard truths that are not found in the Westminster and celebrity-dominated news. We can shine a light on them and help people feel heard.
Commissioners are increasingly interested in hearing the stories of people who have benefited from their funding, in addition or sometimes as part of the reporting process. They are important as part of what we do and evidence of the difference we make, and we should not shy away from using stories as part of what we do to highlight issues and give people a voice.
The questions we have to ask ourselves, when writing our or others stories, are:
1. What story do you want to tell?
If it is ours, what do we want to say? Are we using it as motivation for someone to do something or to highlight an issue? It is not always a comfortable thing, we feel exposed, and the following quote sums this up:
The fact of storytelling hints at a fundamental human unease, hints at human imperfection. Where there is perfection there is no story to tell.” Ben Okri, poet and novelist
2. How can I tell the story that can help people to relate to it?
What is common about my story that people will understand? Let your voice reflect in your story.
3. How can I help people to care?
Where am I trying to take people to and why should they read my story? You may not think what you have to say is important but it will be to someone.
We can help you tell your story
- You can tag us in your stories on Twitter @PolicyVoiceMacc @McrCommCentral @VolunteeringMcr and we will share them.
- Please get involved in this year’s Spirit of Manchester Story week on 23-27 September where organisations tell a story of one activity during that week and the impact it has. Last year’s stories can be found at https://bit.ly/2T9kBmb.
- I run Gathering Stories courses here at Macc and places are still available for 10 July. You can book a place at https://bit.ly/2OYPFn4