Stories Matter

This week I was reminded about the power of stories. It occurred as the result of taking part in a conference that included a session entitled “Community Development in Action”. In the one hour and fifteen minute session, representatives from ten communities shared their respective stories about how they were working to become more active, creative and engaged. Despite the five minute time limitation for each presenter the group managed to deliver compelling stories that had the audience laughing, crying, ooh’ing, ah’ing, and applauding enthusiastically.

Hardly the reaction to a typical conference session, it clearly demonstrated the important and often lost art of story telling. It was also a reminder that those living in communities are an incredible source of knowledge about the issues they face as well as the solutions for how they can be addressed.

Two women from a community of 400 talked about how they served as the catalyst in their small town for a community event that raised $200,000, involved 150 adult volunteers, and resulted in a one day event that produced a brand new playground and skateboard park, as well as flower planting and a clean up of the entire park, arena and main street.

Another community decided to focus on the development of an organic community garden and greenhouse. They’ve managed to get their Town Council and the Crown to approve the use of the land for their endeavour as well as to get a local business to donate two greenhouses.

One small town generated numerous family oriented events throughout the year including movie nights at their local hall made possible by the purchase of a projector. Another talked about their planning efforts and the resulting conclusion that a recreation director was needed in their small but rapidly growing town. In one case, three towns close in proximity but insular in how they worked are now collaborating on a regular basis and have raised a million dollars toward a recreation centre.

No two stories were told in quite the same way. One was told as a fairy tale, another with a montage of photographs set to stirring music, and yet another as a video of a skit that involved the town’s local mascot and his assorted animal friends.

In telling their stories they somehow managed to build a bridge between the facts of their projects and what it actually meant to put them into action. Their stories opened up those in the room to seeing how things could be different in their own communities and how they themselves could be the catalysts for that change. By sharing the value they placed on the quality of life in their communities they were able to convey hope that change was possible. Unlike anything else that could have been done in the session, the stories helped participants see their own potential role in shaping the future of their communities.

Prior to the session it’s unlikely the participants would have been able to explain how to be a catalyst for change in one’s community. The stories however seemed to clarify what might otherwise have been difficult to convey. For example, the stories made it clear that no two communities were alike as well as to illustrate that change was organic and somewhat messy. Almost every story referenced their initial confusion and not knowing where to begin but also conveyed that things eventually got clearer. 

While it would be difficult to describe a winning formula for telling a good story, the most effective were those that came from the heart. As always the best stories are the ones that resonate with authenticity,  passion, and values. It is through stories that capture our imagination and our spirit that we are able to embrace and impart an understanding of what really matters.

Posted on 11-02-09

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