The Powerful Magic of Storytelling

I remember sitting legs crossed on the floor in kindergarten learning about units of measurement. Back then, we didn’t call it “units of measurement.” Not us kids anyway. We were only starting our quest to learn about the world we live in. We listened to the teacher tell a story about measurement. She didn’t have a book to read. She told us this story with her memory and her hands.

There was a king who wanted a bed. A grand, royal bed for him and his spouse. He called upon a carpenter and explained how large he wanted the bed, but the carpenter didn’t want to mess this up. To give him specific measurements, the king walked around the space by placing his heel at his toes and counted each step.

The king said it was ten steps long and six steps wide. The carpenter hurried back to build the royal bed, counting his steps to make sure the measurements were precise. When he returned to the king with the bed, the king was outraged the bed was much smaller than they discussed.

The carpenter nervously told the king he measured exactly like he said with ten feet by six feet. When the king looked down at the carpenter’s feet, he realized how tiny the carpenter’s feet were compared to his. That sparked the idea for standardized measurements.

I can’t remember if they took the measurement of the king’s feet to signify a measurement of one foot or if they took a measurement between both men. Maybe this story of a king and carpenter wasn’t real, and maybe I didn’t remember every detail. But it opened my eyes to understanding why we needed standardized units of measurement.

As that story sticks with me through the years, I realize that I learn best by hearing stories (and that the patriarchy is omnipresent). Maybe learning through stories is part of an ancient gene we all share as humans. The gene that takes us back to sitting around fires and telling each other these stories we were told by our elders and friends that help us understand the world.

Storytelling is the magical key to unlock every individual. Some of us use stories to share lessons we’ve learned. Sometimes stories are used to share similarities and differences with each other, to help us understand why. Others share old stories written by dead men about the unknowable, about what is beyond death. Some use stories to persuade people to think how they want them to think, even if there is little fact behind those stories and mostly biased opinion.

Whether it’s the art of sharing life’s lessons or some other use that can persuade people how to act, storytelling is a powerful force. It’s what makes music so popular and books undying. It’s what makes people see people, not just themselves. Storytelling is what remains from the ancient days when we sat around fires and worried about survival first and foremost.

In the right hands, storytelling is a gift of empathy and acceptance that can connect people all over this planet. In the wrong hands, it is a tool of ignorance and hate that spreads prejudice and misinformation like a wildfire to tear people apart. Hitler’s propaganda tactic still haunts us, but the stories from Holocaust survivors tether us together stronger than any hateful misinformation the Nazi’s spread.

May we always be able to decipher the difference between right and wrong, and may we go out and share the right stories, the ones that bring nations and cultures together. After all, we are humans descended from ancestors who sat around fires telling stories of the world we all share.

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