Imagine, if you can, a group of haggard old men gathered around a campfire. The fire crackles, and the men draw closer. Then, one man, the most haggard of them all, stands up. The fire burning behind him reveals a face lined with the wisdom of the ages. First a silence, then he speaks, “Once upon a time…”
Okay, maybe that’s not how it went. But I think that we can all agree on the basic premise here – storytelling has been around for quite some time. Some might say it’s been around pretty much ever since humans have existed (or longer). So what is it about telling stories that we love so much? Why do we find storytelling so powerful, so potent? Why are we drawn again and again to those dark, star-filled nights, huddled over a small fire with hot cocoa in hand, listening the the retelling of a great adventure?
In many ways, the art of storytelling hasn’t really changed much since the days we drew art on cave walls (remember that? I know, me too). While the technology has changed, the act of storytelling as a means by which we can make sense of this wondrous thing we call ‘life’ – that will always remain the same.
In Europe’s Middle Ages, a storyteller was known as a ‘bard’. Historically, a bard was a sort of ‘traveling poet’ who would use music and lyrics to relay epic legends and great journeys. Some of us might recall the epic poems of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” series, or the character type from the popular ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ style role-playing game of the 1980s and 1990s, both based on this ancient persona.
Bards are very much the archetype of the storyteller through time. These traveling artists would go from place to place, never settling but always exploring. They would share visions of far-off lands, legends of great kings, great deeds, and stories oft forgotten by modern day peoples.
Not much is known of their writings today, but we do have excerpts that prove these bards carried on important knowledge in their day. Some of the more famous bards, such as Taliesin, have left behind compendiums of their work, which is still read by modern day peoples.
Today, we too have become bards. Whenever each of us travels, we bring with us our journals, our smartphones, our social networks. Whenever you post on your travel blog, your Instagram account, your Snapchat, or Facebook, you’re adding to that life narrative you call your own. Building it up, bit by bit, you’re sharing a bit of yourself with the world.
However you enjoy stories or storytelling, I think we can all agree on one thing: the true power of storytelling lies in its capacity to reveal the unique perspective each of us brings to the world. A powerful story allows us to step outside of the bounds of our own worldview and enter that of another. In this sense, we all contain that element of a bard somewhere deep within us. We will always have that story to tell, that dream we are simply dying to share with others. When we engage in this collaborative space, we all share a common identity. We all become storytellers.
Each day, as you wake up and go about your daily life, you make choices just as the storyteller weaves a story. Except – in this story, you have the starring role. You are the one who chooses – do you take the bus to work or do you take the car? Do you help the elderly woman cross the road or leave her in the dust?
This is your story. How will you choose to tell it?