Storytelling and the Wisdom Revolution

It's Time to Elevate the Conversation!

Real storytelling begins with real storylistening

I stand before you today for one purpose and one purpose only — to launch a revolution. Not the kind that overthrows a government. Not the kind that replaces one political system with another. And not the kind that takes life. No. The revolution I’m talking about gives life — a revolution of wisdom or, better yet, a revelation of wisdom — a way that each and every one of us can change things for the better here on planet Earth. My weapon of choice? Not a gun. Not a hand grenade. Not a bomb. My weapon of choice is a story. Yes, you heard that right — a story.

Most revolutionaries have a manifesto — a strongly worded statement of their purpose. I have one, too, but you won’t need to write it down to remember it. My manifesto is already encoded in your cells. It lives inside you and always has. Like the neuroscientists like to say, “the human brain is wired for story”. We are storytelling animals — going all the back to our tribal ancestors standing around the fire and telling their stories of the day. No matter what our differences might be, there is one thing we all share in common: We all belong to the same species — “homo sapiens” — the Latin term for “wise person” — a species with the capacity to know.

Yes, we all know something. We do. Our challenge? How do we communicate what we know? That’s the real question. Because once we do, things will begin changing for the better. Steve Jobs may have said it best. “The most powerful person in the world is the storyteller. The storyteller sets the values, mission, and agenda of an entire generation that is yet to come.” And Steve is in excellent company. According to the Hopi Indians: “He that tells the story rules the world”.

Powerful words, indeed, but what do they really mean? Well, instead of talking about story to make my point, allow me to actually tell you a story.

Once upon a time, there was a wealthy merchant traveling across India on a month-long buying trip — a journey he made twice a year, going to off-the-beaten-path villages to buy the finest of silks and brocades. Two days into his journey, while dining at a roadside hotel, the merchant was approached by a very animated young man.

“Oh merchant,” the young lad began. “You are old and I am young. You are frail and I am strong. Please allow me to assist you on your way, to carry whatever needs to taken from one place to another. Your journey will be far more successful and I, kind sir, will get a wonderful chance to earn a much needed living.”

And so the merchant hired the young man on the spot. Each night the two of them dined together on the finest of foods and each night, about 20 minutes into their meal, the young man politely excused himself — not to use the bathroom, as he had announced, but to search the merchant’s room looking for money to steal. Alas, he never found a penny. Not a single one. And then, on the final night of the journey, racked with guilt and a big dose of curiosity, the thief confessed.

“Kind sir, ever since we met I have had only one thing in mind — to rob you. Each night I searched your room for your fortune, looking under your pillow, under your mattress, and everywhere else, but I never found a thing. Your kindness has humbled me and now all I can do now is ask your forgiveness. But, please, before we go our separate ways, I must ask you one simple thing: Where, in the world, did you hide your money?”

“Ah...” replied the merchant, taking a long, slow breath. “I knew from the moment we met that you were a thief. That was quite obvious. So I hid my money in the only place I knew you wouldn’t look. I hid my money under your pillow.”

The riches I’m talking about today, my friends, is not gold, stock options, or the almighty buck. The riches I’m talking about is what money can’t buy: Wisdom. Inside of each one of us there is a great wisdom — an intuitive knowing of something far beyond space and time. But like the merchant’s fortune, it is not in plain sight. It is hidden. Where is it hidden? Under our own pillow. And the pillow is story — the life experiences we’ve had that contain, within them, deeply encoded messages of truth. How does a person experience wisdom in the first place — something worth communicating? Well, there are many ways. Some people read holy books. Some meditate. Some are initiated into it by a Wise Teacher or Master. And for some, wisdom simply comes with time. But no matter how we get our first taste of wisdom, the challenge remains the same for all of us — how do we communicate it to others in the most memorable way?

Deconstruct any scripture, any sermon, any TED talk and guess what you’ll find — story! That’s how most meaningful messages are conveyed. Indeed, social scientists tell us that 65% of all our conversations are made up of story — either narrative accounts of what’s happened in the past or our imaginings of what we’d like to see happen in the future. Story is everywhere. Explains author, Madeleine D’Engle, “There are entire societies that have never used the wheel. But there are no societies that did not tell stories.”

Here’s what the neuroscientists tell us: When a storyteller shares their experience, the same parts of the brain that light up in the listener light up in the storyteller’s brain upon remembering the experience they are sharing. “Mood contagion” it is sometimes called. “Somatic states”. “Neural coupling” — the phenomenon of one person being able to transmit not only information about X, Y, or Z, but a feeling imbued with the power to spark transformation. “Mind Meld” as Dr. Spock would have called it — how one person transmits hard-to-communicate tacit knowledge to another.

The question isn’t whether or not storytelling works. It does. The question is: Are we going to step up to the plate and tell our stories? And, equally as important, What kind of stories are we going to tell?

Storytelling, you see, is like a knife. You can use it to spread butter on toast or you can use it to poke somebody’s eye out. Sages, rabbis, priests, elders, teachers, and light-bearing people of all kinds use story to communicate meaningful, memorable messages — timeless truths and principles. That’s the good news. But there’s also a dark side to storytelling. It can be used to manipulate and control. Think political spin doctors. Think revisionist history. Think advertising at its worst.

If you really want to witness the power of story to color our collective mindset, all you need to do is watch the evening news. The stories the media likes to tell? Stories of violence, corruption, war, greed, rape, murder, bombings, terrorism, fraud, fires, and scandal — with an occasional cat being rescued from a tree just so we don’t all jump off a bridge at the exact same time and screw up their ratings.

90% of all nightly news stories are negative. I get it. Bad news sells. I get that there’s a lot of “bad stuff” going on in the world and knowing about it is the first step towards doing something about it. Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating that we airbrush out the bad news from our lives. Even Fairy Tales have “bad news” — the monster, the demon, and the Big Bad Wolf. True. But how about we strike more of a balance? What if each and everyone of us chose to share more of the good stories with each other — not just on Sundays, but everyday — stories of breakthrough, learning, insight, and kindness. What would happen if we elevated the conversation — one story at a time on this big, beautiful planet of ours? Because what we say, what we express, what we put out there in the world is not just about reporting on so-called reality. It’s also about shaping reality. Like one wise pundit put it, “People think human beings create stories. In fact, it’s the other way around.”

And all of this begins with you and me. Not our so-called leaders. Not the government. Not the movie makers, novelists, and programmers — though they can certainly help. It begins with us. I’m sure you’ve heard the expression “power to the people?” Yes? And I’m sure you’ve heard the expression “information is power?” Yes? Well... what I’m saying is that if you want to be informed about what really matters in this life, if you want reclaim your power, then get on the front lines of storytelling. You may not own CNN, FOX News or NBC, but you are in the broadcasting business. You are your own news station. You get to program the kind of news that goes out into the world.

In 1993, a group of 4,000 meditators in Washington DC, over the course of two months, demonstrated that crime could be reduced in the U.S. capital — in their case, by 23%, simply by meditating. I can’t tell you how that mass meditation experiment worked (fans of Rupert Sheldrake might explain it as the “morphogenetic field.”) All I know is that it worked. What if all 7.8 billion of us began telling our wisdom stories? What might change? How might the conversations we are having with each other shape our reality?

You have stories to tell. I know you do — your own spontaneously occurring “moments of truth” — an obstacle overcome... a lesson learned... a breakthrough... a random act of kindness. All of us have these experiences. Every single one of us. And these stories have great power. But only if they are shared.

You may, like many people, think you are not a good storyteller. You may think people won’t listen. Not true! You already are a good storyteller. You’ve been telling stories all your life. It’s what psychologists call an “unconscious competency”. Like breathing. Or thinking. Or riding a bike. You may not be able to explain how you do it, but you know how. You do. You’re a natural. It’s in your bones.

So this is my invitation to you: Join the storytelling revolution. Step up to the plate and let it rip! Don’t just evolve. Revolve! Revolve around a much bigger sun than bad news, gossip, and complaint. Liberate the storyteller within. How to begin? Simple. In this moment, think of a story you’ve heard that inspires you — maybe something a friend told you... or a teacher... or a grandparent. Or maybe a story you read in a book — a story that, like a beautiful piece of music, you never get tired of telling. And if you can’t think of anything you’ve heard or read, think of one of your own — something from your own life — a memorable moment... a challenge overcome.. a lesson learned... almost dying... falling in love... the birth of a child... a chance encounter. Whatever. Got it? Good.

How to begin? Simple. There is only one sentence you need, one segue, to get the ball rolling when you’re in a conversation. And it is this: “That reminds me of a story”. As long as you are listening to the person and the story you tell connects to the conversation you’re having, you are on your way.

And when you’re done? Give the person you’re talking to the gift of your attention. Give them space to respond. Don’t just hit and run now that your story has been told. Stay in the space your story opened up. Bathe in it. Perhaps your story will remind your friend of a story that they want to tell.

In the revolution I’m inviting you to join, we’re all on the front line — the line called NOW. No one is injured. Everyone is healed. No one is killed. Everyone lives. Lives! Not just survives! LIVES — and experiences what it truly means to be conscious, awake, and an active member of the world community of wise ones.

You in? That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com

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