Thursday, November 5, 2015

I can’t tell anymore whether I’m at a concert or a play.  Drinks in hand and clustered around round tables dispersed through the auditorium, the audience is rapt.  I, too, am spellbound.  Ken Lavigne’s sonorous tenor voice captivates me.

The voice certainly works its magic through mellow and tender renditions of “Loch Lomond” or “Bring Him Home.”  It forges a bond with the audience just as much, however,  through sincere and dramatic accounts of challenges and epic moments in the singer’s career, accents and modulation included.  The music might make time stand still, but the stories create the relationship that freezes the moment.

Narrative has power.  Examples abound. 

·      After his election as Liberal leader in 2012, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to the stories of Canadians from coast to coast to coast, in church basements, living rooms, and small halls.  The sense of the country’s pulse the stories of Canadians give him serve him well in the campaign.

·      Students tell a vice-principal how much they value the early morning pre-class conversation time they have with their teacher.

·      The father of a teen hockey star lost to a drug overdose retells the story to as many groups of adolescents as he can manage.

·      Siblings of a suicide victim  share their healing process with grieving families who can benefit from the experience of others.

·      A First Nations Elder teaches with stories of his own life and that of his people. 

·      An aspiring quarterback seeks out the stories of his star mentor, stories that might be his own one day.

·      A refugee recounts his harrowing flight from Eritrea at age seventeen.    Sent away with his brother by a mother fearful for her sons’ lives, he journeyed through Sudan and Libya before arriving in Canada.  Although the events occurred thirty years ago, the protection and welcome he came to know here in Saskatchewan still move him to tears.

·      First Nations men, hands in their pockets, meet the gaze of the folk in their small audience. Intent and matter-of-fact, they share the story of their imprisonment and their resolve to redirect their lives.

·      At a social justice conference, a speaker reminds his audience that the core of social justice is making time to listen to people’s stories.   And, really, why would it not be?  The act of listening tells another that he/she matters.

So what is it about stories that gives them such power?

Stories console.  They remind us that others have trod the path we are on, that they emphathize, and that we can benefit from their experience.

Stories affirm, and on many levels.  That someone will take the time to listen to our story recognizes our worth as persons.  We matter.    In our own listening, we affirm them as persons.   They matter.  In addition, their stories can be a mirror of our own experiences as well as a window into worlds we might never otherwise know as intimately or at all. 

Stories teach.  They honour the ability of people to draw their own conclusions.  They honour the dignity of the individual.

Stories heal.  Their subtlety is balm for soul.   The listener finds community.  For the teller, the experience, like that of Samuel Tayler Coleridger’s mariner, is cathartic :

Forthwith this frame of mine was wrenched
With a woful agony,
Which forced me to begin my tale;
And then it left me free.

The confession restores the soul.

Stories build relationships.   When they recount experiences, people offer each other the most precious possessions they have—their time and their selves.  The more personal the anecdote, the more intimate and lasting the bond, especially in the case of a confidence safeguarded.   

It should come as no surprise, then, that a singer’s storytelling talents would captivate an audience as much as the music.  For both the storyteller and the listener, stories mesmerize and heal.


  1. Words are powerful. Your words prove that.

  2. Thank you so much for your comment. No question about the power of words to build up or tear down, elucidate or distort.

  3. it is so important to hang onto the words that build up but hard to let go of the words that tear down.

  4. Yes, the narrative that goes on in our heads controls so much of what happens to us. I have heard the replaying of negative tracks as "sleeping" with the people who uttered those words. Too bad the negative has so much more retention power than the positive. Letting the negative go is one of life's continual challenges. Thanks for the comment.