Chronology of storytelling

Transcript of the April 12, 2003 session at the Smithsonian Associates


Paul: Itís great to be here and what a fantastic start. I donít know whether you believe in reincarnation. Iím wearing my New Age Angel on my lapel here, but if we did believe in reincarnation I think that Seth in the dark mysteries of time past must have been a shaman. He brings a kind of shaman energy to our work and he inspires us. 
I wore this tie this morning because it connects me to my Australian roots, but also what Seth demonstrated, is something that the ancient Australian peoples live their lives around stories. But for them, stories were more than just tales to be shared around the campfire. When we were little kids at school, we learned that Captain Cook mapped Australia, and all these great navigators. In fact, the aboriginal people used stories as maps. 

I am sure many of you have read the wonderful book by Bruce Chatwin called Songlines. But if you havenít itís the notion that aboriginals told stories that included mountains and valleys and rivers and trees and rocks. Thatís what they told, so that they could find their way through that vast vast continent. And thereís a songline connection between the tribal peoples in the far north-western corner of that continent, down through the middle, to the far south-eastern corner. Itís a songline. 
And didnít we see a songline, or a storyline enacted in what Seth did? With all the hands on the 
shoulders, it was moving feeling for me, it connects today with the past. 
   Weíre not inventing anything new. This is the wisdom that peoples of ancient civilizations have known about. Weíre the ones who have forgotten it. And a day like today allows us to recapture that wisdom. What Seth has started us doing is to have our stories map our aspirations for the day. Theyíve mapped our hopes. Theyíve mapped our dreams. Stories map our memories. In those memories, we draw back to go forward. So letís look forward to what the next map is going to be, as we move to our next module.

Paul: Thanks very much, Alicia. I just think that Alicia brings, in the team that is presenting today, a wonderful gentle sensitivity. I can see how she has communicated that to you. And she also has a wicked sense of humor. So she brings enormous gifts to the team. 
   As Seth opened up the day, setting up our ďsonglineĒ, and mapping for us the beginning of the day, our hopes, I think that if you know anything about mapping, you trace the hidden rivers and dreams. You do the Lewis and Clark thing. You find one tributary and you set your sail. You become a waterman. You try to find the major source of that river. Itís like: ďThere must be a Mississippi here!Ē This stream is flowing stronger and stronger towards the sea. 
   I think that weíre mapping our values and our aspirations of today, and our hopes at the beginning of the day. When youíve unwrapped a hope, when youíve mapped whatís underneath a hope, you find: a value. Because a value is really what we most treasure. 
    So this day starts to ďunpackĒ. Weíre mapping. We start the day with the sharing of the quick stories. Now we move to the next level. 
    Alicia comes from the anthropological tradition. Itís one of the streams that informs this continent of story and storytelling. She spoke about the Kuna. It reminded me of the Margaret Meadís, the Gregory Batesonís, the people who have mapped that.
    With the stories that weíve heard this morning so far, weíve gone to Panama. Weíve gone to the Chesapeake Bay with the watermen. Weíve gone to Hawaii. People who work with stories are anthropologists. We sit. We listen. We get inside an experience and a people. 
   But something else has happened today. Weíre not in Panama. Weíre not on the Chesapeake Bay. Weíre not in Hawaii. One of the things about being an anthropologist of the every day, is that you sit and listen and observe and treasure whatís happening in this very chemistry that weíre creating, so far in the first three or four hours of our day. 
    So thanks again to Alicia. She brings that stream to this rich continent of story. Weíve whetted our appetites now. Isnít it interesting? Whatís next? Canít wait! (laughter, applause)

Paul: I just wanted to pay tribute to Rob, who trained for the ministry. Although he didnít go through with that, he hasnít lost his sense of calling. One of the new things that happened in this last session was that he invited us into the longest chunk of silence that youíre likely to get today, in terms of that meditative piece. This is one of the interesting things about the story tradition and Rob brings a deeply meditative presence to the work. He reminds us story-work isnít only about sound and noise. Story-work is also about deep reflection and about silence. 
That draws from a religious tradition. If you want to know how to interpret stories that go to deeper levels, then you go to Midrash , and Kabbala. You go to Lexio Divina, that the Benedictine monks have evolved over thousands of years. So thereís a deep religious tradition and a theological tradition. The pioneers of narrative thinking, if you want to think about the modern era, happened in the 1970s. Itís in narrative theology. Itís names like John Shea . Thereís an untapped goldmine of knowledge on narrative and itís in the area of theology, whether itís Jewish, or Christian. 

Paul: Costello: Madelyn just brings so much dynamism, so much energy, doesnít she? (applause) I am going to steal that line. Itís related to the work that I do in Northern Ireland. ďA shared future is far more powerful than a shared past.Ē
In places like Northern Ireland, a shared past is still imprisoning people in stories that need to be exorcised, and put to bed, and put to rest and buried in the cemetery. Madelyn brings to the group today that wonderful energy that you saw. But it also reminds me of another constituency thatís represented in the storytelling field. 
In Northern Ireland where I work, itís the women, itís the mothers, who nurture the future stories of the next generation. And you know, in this city here, where there are families that have broken apart, and put childrenís futures at risk, how very very often, and I donít want to sound sexist here, but how very very often, itís the mums and the grandmums and the aunties who nurture the future stories to the rising generations. I think that in the field of story and story practice, itís well worthwhile looking at some of the wonderful writing and research done by women writers and feminist theorists and feminist practitioners who teach us so much about this field which is evolving here. 

To segue into that, thereís also the field of family therapy. Thereís a school which originates out of New Zealand and Australia, and itís called narrative therapy. Youíll see in the chronology, people like Michael White from Australia and David Epstein. Someone was asking earlier for tools. Narrative therapy has developed for twenty five years of the most practical tools, and it doesnít take a great amount of imagination to transfer directly into the areas of work weíre involved in in organizations and corporations. Thereís so much knowledge and wisdom out there. But I think so much of it is in silos. Weíre here. And theyíre in another conference, five miles down the road. And we donít even know of each otherís existence. Part of the whole convergence that weíre trying for is to get these groups together and talking to each other. 

   So there are many aspects to future story. You can see it on the last page of the booklet. Golden Fleece doesnít need to get all the honors and glory. Itís not just happening here in Washington D.C. Itís happening in San Diego. Whereís Karen Dietz? Karen is part of a story thatís evolving on the West Coast. (applause) Boston. Whereís Boston? Boston is a story thatís emerging strongly around Cambridge. (applause) Chicago. Is there anybody here from Chicago? There are people doing things there. 
   There seems to be a kind of bushfire starting. Thatís an Australian image. Itís a fire thatís spreading. Weíve got people here from Great Britain. Youíve heard the accents. Welcome to London. (laughter) Thereís something happening over there in the U.K. The National Storytelling Network! Itís a huge resource to tap into.  We have someone here from Holland. (applause) Thereís the Holland contingent of this future story. Think what they might contribute. Then thereís Ö. Denmark. What about Denmark? Welcome to Denmark! (applause) There are things happening Denmark and Sven-Erik has come over. New Zealand! Whereís New Zealand? Thereís New Zealand! Things are happening there. Who else? Canada! Letís give the Canadians three cheers. (applause, laughter) Anybody else? Brazil! Wow! Welcome (applause
Fantastic. So I guess we should recognize as we come together here is that the future story is not owned solely by us. Weíre just a part of a whole chain, a whole network of wonderful, wonderful good infection that spreading around the world. We want to make sure that you feel included in that story. We may be up here presenting, but by God, itís a shared story that belongs to all of us, and hopefully to more and more people, as the story unfolds. Thanks very much. (applause

When we started the day, let me just quickly recap in terms of Seth Kahan who started the day with jumpstart storytelling. Then we moved to Alicia Korten and the native peoples of Panama and their storytelling encapsulating values. Then we moved to Rob Creekmore and we went deeper into stories and story appreciation and about values, about what we treasure. And then after lunch, we had Madelyn getting us all energized about the future and creating the future now and energizing us towards it. And then lastly, Steve, who showed us how to spring the audience into the future and bring us home at the end of the day. (applause
Steve: One other thing: there is actually a ticket we have to give you on the way Ė a ticket to the storytelling express. Itís just a little symbol of the journey that we are on and where you may take this journey next.

Paul: There is one group I havenít acknowledged. Could all the storytellers in the room raise your hands. Can I thank you for being here and sharing your wisdom. You have brought so much to our exercise today. (applause

    Steve said earlier that I have read all the books on storytelling. Actually, I havenít. Iíve skimmed a fair few of them. Iíve read some of them. But my apartment is full of books. Iíd like to finish with a poem. I thought Iíd send you off with a poem, which is a little bit different from a story. In a sense, Iíd like to indulge my passion for books. Many of you probably have apartments full of books. Do you have lots of books at your place? (laughter) You do? Well, hereís a poem that is kind of personal to me, but itís also a bit of fun. Itís called: 

                    LENDING OUT BOOKS
                        HAL SIROWITZ

     Youíre always giving, my therapist said.
     You have to learn how to take.
     Whenever you meet a woman, the first thing you do is lend her your books.
     You think sheíll have to see you again in order to return them. 
     But what happens is, she doesnít have the time to read them. 
     And sheís afraid if she sees you again, youíll expect her to talk about them. 
     And will want to lend her even more. 
     So she cancels the date. 
    You end up losing a lot of books. 
    You should borrow hers. (applause) 

    Can I thank you for allowing us as the team to borrow your day, and your time and your energy. We hope that youíve shared stories and that weíve shared stories, so that you can borrow from us, and take back. And if there are some people in the room before you leave who have shared a story, with you in your small circles or wherever, itís a wonderful narrative ethic that the native peoples always honor: a story told is a gift given. Remember to say thank you before you leave. Thank you! Itís been a wonderful experience. (applause

Tel 301 371-7100 :; www.Pelerei.Com
Steve Denning
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Seth Kahan 
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Rob Creekmore
Tel. 301 891-3029; Email:
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Fax: 202 537 - 6045 
To buy:
The Springboard: How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizations
by Steve Denning (October 2000) Butterworth-Heinemann, Boston, USA

          Paperback - 192 pages. ISBN: 0750673559 
To read 
of :
The Squirrel: The Seven Highest Value Forms of Organizational Storytelling
          by Steve Denning (work in progress) 
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