The Power of Storytelling
The evangelist Mark wrote of Jesus: “And he did not speak to them without a parable” (4:34). A parable is a simple story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson, as told by Jesus in the gospels.
I recently acquired a copy of Fr Ralph De Hahn’s book collection of short stories, Let Me Tell You A Story. What a lovely and easy book to read!
In 149 pages Fr de Hahn tells 42 stories, so each story is only about three pages long—and each story is gripping from beginning to end. Regular readers of The Southern Cross may know Fr de Hahn’s storytelling from the many Christmas editions in which these appeared.
Just as the parables told by Jesus, these stories have moral and spiritual lessons such as “Don’t judge a book by its cover”, “The least becomes the most important” and “The real value of most people is hidden. Many heroes go unnoticed.”
We all love stories. Adults love stories as much as children do (if not in books, then in film or TV shows). Why are stories so attractive and powerful as a means of communication?
I did some research to find out more about the power of storytelling and I discovered the following:
Stories are authentic human experiences. There are several psychological reasons why stories are so powerful.
• Stories have always been a primal form of communication. They are timeless links to ancient traditions, legends, myths and symbols. They connect us to a larger self and universal truths.
• Stories are about collaboration and connection. They transcend generations, they engage us through emotions, and they connect us to others. Through stories (or parables) we share passions and sadness, hardships and joys. We share meaning and purpose. Stories are the common ground that allows people to communicate, overcoming defences and differences. Stories allow us to understand ourselves better and to find our commonality with others.
• Stories are how we think. They are how we make meaning of life. Call them scripts, mental, metaphors, or narratives. Stories are how we explain how things work, how we make decisions, how we justify our decisions, how we persuade others, how we understand our place in the world, create our identities, and define and teach social values.
• Stories are how we are wired. Stories take place in the imagination. To the human brain, imagined experiences are processed the same as real experiences. Stories create genuine emotions and the sense of being somewhere. Stories help us to change our behaviours.
• Stories are the pathway to triggering our imagination. By engaging our imagination, we become participants in the story. We can step out of our own shoes, see differently, and increase our empathy for others.
And that is why Jesus, the greatest storyteller, spoke to the people in parables. Parables teach us about the human condition and the many ways in which human beings have encountered God. They teach us how we might best respond to God in our own lives.
There is a line in one of the stories in Fr de Hahn’s book, which I think I will never forget. A life lesson: “Kindness is the key that fits the lock of any heart.” The line touched me and it challenges me to a response.
Let Me Tell You A Story is a book of short, simple and inspirational stories which is not just for individual reading but can also be used by groups in the church, such as women’s groups, youth groups, men’s groups, and so on.
The stories will not just enrich your own lives but also the lives of those to whom you will tell the stories again. And by buying one of Fr de Hahn’s books from the chancery, you will support him in his great work for the church-building fund of the archdiocese of Cape Town.
Let Me Tell You A Story is available at R100 (plus p&p) from the Cape Town (Coral Fisher at 021 462-2417 or firstname.lastname@example.org) or the Catholic Bookshop (021 465-5904) or from Fr de Hahn at email@example.com