This is #nationalstorytelling week – where the art of oral story telling is celebrated. Given I have made a career out of storytelling it’s a bit of a shock that this is the first I have heard of this particular week – but let me try to make up for this now.
One of the many delights of my job is the opportunity I have to hear other people’s stories of their experience of Cyrenians – sometimes going back to the start of our 50 years of existence.
Recently I heard one of the most unusual stories ever. A man told me he used to work at the Dick Vet School in the days when it occupied Summerhall, now a great events venue but once a place of anatomy lectures and training in dissection! He told me he knew of Cyrenians because every year the Vet School would receive a donation of chickens from our Farm for use in the dissection classes. Apparently, residents would get so close to the chickens they couldn’t bring themselves to eat them – but despite that affection they were happy to send them off to be dissected! I know we all manage our relationships in different ways, but that does seem a bit extreme!
The story is of course, not really about chickens but about the relationship the residents on the farm had with their environment – and their unexpected partnership with the Vet school as a result. It tells us about life in Cyrenians farm several decades ago yet is only a few lines long. Such is the power of the simplest of stories to shed light on some deeper truths.
Stories need only be one sentence long: like man in his 40’s wept when presented his certificate after doing a course with our Falkirk team – he said it was the first exam he’d ever passed in his life. A simple one line story evoking great hope from a harsh reality.
Or the story of the woman who cooked for her friend for the first time after completing one of our cooking classes – she said – “it felt so good for someone to eat food I had cooked – it seemed like anything was possible now.” We don’t need to know the details – we are nourished by the symbol of transformation in a single sentence.
Sometimes it’s numbers that tell a story – when I tell audiences we feed 7000 people through 100 partner organisations a week using food otherwise destined for landfill I can feel them getting angry and excited at the same time. No description, no detail, just a picture formed by three numbers telling of creativity and collaboration, our values and our commitments, in the face of a problem.
The poet and novelist Ben Okri said “Stories are the secret reservoirs of our values”,. His words hold a truth which sheds light on why story telling is so important and so powerful. The stories we tell, the way we tell them and the people we tell them to speak volumes about who we are and how we see the world. They are windows on what really matters to us. They are the laying out of common ground, an invitation to the hearer to share our journey because we share the same values. Stories well told form a common understanding of what is good and right and beautiful and true, even, or perch so especially when they tell of struggle and sacrifice or evoke anger and a call for change and transformation.
People often ask me what my job entails – it is many things but at its heart it is to be a storyteller – stories which speak of the values we live by, the hope we see each day in the lives of folk facing tough realities and the belief we have on the profound possibility of transformational change held in all of us.
We may not send chickens to the dissection table these days – but we do share journeys of extraordinary change each and everyday – stories which are worth retelling in affirmation, inspiration, connection and reflection, stories which hold our values and speak of what even the toughest reality can tell us about life, its fragility and its potential.
1st February 2018