Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Telling Stories

If I really want to get a point across to someone, usually I will try to find a way to do so without "attacking" them head on.  Why?  Because it is human nature to argue!  So if, for example, I hold up a pen and say to you "this is the best pen in the world!" your conscious mind will probably start from the premise that it is not the best pen in the world and will then look for all the negative reasons that prove this.  It would be an unusual person who accepted the statement at face value and then looked for the positive reasons to justify this stand.

One of the best ways of doing this is by telling a story.  2,000 years ago in Palestine there was a story teller who really understood this principle and used it to best advantage.  Most Christians will recognize, for example, the story of the Good Samaritan.  This story encapsulates some powerful moral principles.  It is much easier for the listener to absorb those principles by listening to the story than it is by hearing someone lecture them on the need to help those around us no matter how different they may be from us.  In fact, you could argue that a large percentage of the Bible consists of stories that convey moral, ethical and spiritual messages.  Those messages usually pass under the radar of our conscious mind, which might otherwise try to argue, and instead lodge directly in our subconscious, instilling in us the uplifting traits they illustrate.

This is true not just of Christianity, but of most religions.  The concept goes back far more than 2,000 years.  From the time humans gathered together for mutual benefit there have always been story tellers, and they are usually held in high regard.  In the best examples the stories they tell, again, pass on spiritual truths to their listeners, but in a non-confrontational and unpatronizing way.

Parents of young children will probably agree that they tell stories on a daily basis to their children, and it is very likely they choose at least some of those stories to illustrate some important lessons.  Perhaps, for example, the fables of Aesop.

You can use this method to change the negative aspects of someone's behaviour if you do it carefully.  This is especially the case when they are doing something wrong without having thought through the consequences or without really meaning to do so.  A very wise work colleague taught me this technique.  He said when that happens, tell a story to that person about someone having done whatever that wrong thing might be and the consequences that resulted.  Add into it how different things would have been if only they had behaved in a different way.  Tell it as if it were a tale of something that actually happened to you or to someone you know.  When this is done carefully, the person you are talking with will not realize what is happening.  They will not consciously know they are the "hero" of the story.  Their defences will therefore not be up and they will listen properly and often agree with you about how bad this was and how the person concerned should have acted differently.  But although consciously they do not know what is happening, and therefore do not resist, subconsciously they get the message.  Very often you will find that just this one little story will do a lot of good in changing the person's behaviour.

Just as you can use the story telling method to change someone else, so you can use it to change yourself.  It is an extremely powerful technique.  Gather together some of the world's best literature and see if you can find some stories which have underlying strong moral, ethical and spiritual messages.  Obviously a good place to start is with the religious writings of your own religion - or perhaps of a number of religions if, like me, you have an open mind on religion.  You don't have to be a member of a particular religion, or even of any religion, to benefit from its stories in this way.  Concentrate particularly on the writings that contain stories.  A Hindu example is the Ramayana - the Tamil version written in English by R K Narayan which is a wonderful introduction to this epic.  As a Sufi example, try some of the marvellous works of Sayed Idries Shah - for example "Tales of the Dervishes", or "The Pleasantries of the Incredible Mulla Nasrudin".  The Midrash and the Talmud are full of enlightening stories, as, of course, is the Bible.

Once you get into the habit of looking for inspiring literature in this way you will find it can really change your life.  Not only spiritually, but also in all other aspects of your life, including even financially.  Check out some of the fairy tales and other folk stories that abound - but take care, as not all are intended to convey teachings you may wish to imbibe!

One very good example of this is a rather quirky adult fairy tale by Charlotte Pingriff, called "Mr Happy".  Read this and you will find the message of living a happier life will pass underneath the mental barriers all adults put up, and your life will change in subtle but important ways.  If you want to be happier, I strongly suggest you give this one a try, testing out what I have said here at the same time as creating a happier life for yourself.

PS, the above links are US sources.  If you prefer UK sources, here are some more links for you:


  1. Brilliant thanks.
    Have a wonderful festive season and new year

  2. This is very powerful message especially to our children or any other person. Instead of being confrontational to them which has its own negative side effects, it better to counsel them through stories.
    Thank you for this write up.