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STORY AND STORYTELLERS: Celebrating Women and Changing the Cultural Myth

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Everyone loves stories. Whether we are the storyteller relishing our version of truth being received by another or the listener captivated by the images and experiences shared, stories engage us in a deeply human exchange that shapes lives, communities and worldviews. A story bridges experience and the deeper workings of the soul and psyche, activating images, emotions and imagination. When touched by story, we feel into and engage with information in a way that burrows deep, relating in new and individual ways to timeless patterns, plots and archetypal themes. Personal stories evoke empathy and compassion, curiosity and amazement. Myths and fairytales, as the collective teaching stories of a culture, convey lessons of courage, integrity, value and possibility. Stories and myths survive telling after telling because they re-enact the universal, archetypal truths that we intuitively understand when we witness the conflicts of good and evil, struggle and defeat, achievement and success all played out in the infinite variations of the stories that touch our heart. These universal themes underlie the ancient and modern myths that reflect our highest aspirations and awaken our deepest longings. Whether in tales of the Greek gods, the virtuous adventures of Wonder Woman, the heroic realms of Star Wars, or re-told memories shared among friends, stories inspire, educate and awaken our sense of connection, adventure, and curiosity about unfamiliar or forgotten worlds. Stories serve as tools of change and portals of possibility inviting us to venture well beyond the ordinary, habitual sense of self, other and world.

In October 2017, a cultural wave surged across the country — and in fact around the globe. In response to a number of high profile accounts of sexual harassment and abuse, #MeToo emerged as a forum for women of all ages and backgrounds to share their personal stories. It offered a simple yet powerful invitation: you are not alone; tell us your story and the world will listen. Isolated no longer, women discovered a welcoming place to share long held secrets rife with scars of abuse and shaming. Each posting added an individual story and introduced a unique storyteller.

Powerful stories aggregate and over time can re-shape the cultural beliefs that sustain or alter our cultural experience. #MeToo fueled a disrupting shift in what women and society would tolerate, exposing previously invisible yet operative myths, passively accepted for far too long. The dark myth of the assumed entitlement of powerful men to harass and abuse women was blasted open through the force of story and storytellers exposing its raw ugliness. As these stories emerged, the old myth was rejected again and again, gradually strengthening the new cultural story: women will no long suffer abuse and degradation silently and consequences will rain down on abusers. Recent headlines and firings testify to the central role of stories in enabling effective change. #TimesUp!

 

Look What SHE Did! [www.lookwhatshedid.com] is another stunning example of a cultural corrective for ta myth that denies, hides or undervalues the accomplishments of women. Look What SHE Did! is a creative project that invites women to recount individual stories of inspiring women who affect their life, work and soul. In recounting their stories, each storyteller shares a secret with us—the secret of how some little known event or unheralded women has impacted lives throughout history, transforming psyche and re-forming the myth of our time. An author, an artist, a role-model from history, a famous or unknown woman — each individual profiled in a story recounted on video adds a unique facet to an extraordinary gem that is far greater than the sum of all these fascinating individual parts. That gem is the enlargement of our understanding about the pivotal roles of renown and unknown women throughout history in shaping lives and culture. How does this happen and what is really going on in these short Look What SHE Did video stories?

Helen Luke, a beloved Jungian Analyst wrote often about the transformative nature of story to effect both personal and cultural change. She wrote:

A great teacher…Harold Goddard, wrote in his book The Meaning of Shakespeare: ‘The destiny of the world is determined less by the battles that are lost and won than by the stories it loves and believes in.’ This love and belief begins and ends, of course, in individuals and their responses to such stories in their own lives. (In The Way of Women: Awakening the Perennial Feminine p. 97)

Through stories shared, we are each drawn into a way of knowing and experiencing that is far more complex and nuanced than factual or logical reasoning alone. When touched by story, we feel into and engage with information in ways that burrow deep, intimately relating us to personal patterns and universal themes. Story moves beyond and outside the narrow channels of linear, black and white, reductive thinking. Story welcomes the paradoxes of life and the absurdity of experience, all coexisting with the ordinary and extraordinary events of life. It invites our response and opens us to an altered view of self and world

Father Kevin Bradt, S.J writes eloquently about his love of story and its transformative power to structure how we think and hold the complex realities of our life. He writes that:

“…. story is not just an art form but an epistemology, a technique or way of knowing the world, the self, and the other. (p.3)

…[N]arrative truth finds itself enhanced and made richer by the simultaneous presence of multiple meanings and disparate interpretations…. (p.100)

Story can bear ambiguity, doubt, contradiction, mystery, and enigma. Story can tolerate the obscure, the imprecise, the suspect, the indeterminate. Story knows more than can ever be articulated—through indirection, suggestion, tone, and dynamics. Story can neither prove nor define the way science claims its representational discourse can, but story can permit the paradoxical simultaneities of reality. (p.108)

[In Story as a Way of Knowing]

Each story shared by Look What SHE Did! celebrates what matters most to the storyteller and highlights the medium of story to create an enlivened relationship with the viewer. A two-way mirror appears reflecting both the inner and outer life of the storyteller, while simultaneously illuminating the achievements and attributes of the one who inspires. What the narrator chooses to highlight in her story creates a singular web of images and impressions that clearly have touched her, revealing the passions and interests of the storyteller herself, adding her unique perspective to an evolving mosaic. These personal reflections travel far beyond any boundary, resonating wherever the turf is ripe or this new seed needed. A young girl listens to a Look What SHE Did! story that awakens her curiosity about an unknown terrain and she pursues a secret interest in archeology or math or dance. Another women recognizes her own struggle in the obstacles overcome by the inspirational woman featured, rediscovering renewed courage in facing the challenges of her own life. Some fragment of a story can awaken an image that shifts our thinking or challenges an old belief. Other stories may intrigue enough to spark an inquiry into unanticipated realms, or re-awake dormant desires or memories, or simply add a fresh narrative to the listener’s available repertoire as she shares these stories interacting with others.

There is a secret genius at work in the simple invitation proffered by Look What SHE Did! for women to speak about another woman who has inspired them. The respect and fascination of the filming and editing crew is also vividly evident in each beautifully captured story session. In truth, Look What SHE Did! enlarges how we understand and value women throughout history and in our time, as well as how we know and appreciate ourselves. The often inadequate accounts in history texts or contemporary news media fail to grasp the “deep story”—the transformational and inspiring impacts that shape women and men through the stories they experience today. The old myth—the incomplete, stereotypic stories of women—slowly fall away archaic and obsolete, as women experience and share more textured, complex and rich accounts that influence the psyches of our time and seed the changes for the future. #MeToo and Look What SHE Did!, each in their unique way, creates an alchemy that is transformational for storyteller, listener/viewer and the larger cultural community.

Look What SHE Did! storytellers gather experiences and information, presenting stories and images that convey something impactful not only to our intellectual or mental faculties, but also stimulate our emotional and psychic connections to others and events. Helen Luke understood—as we all do on some level—that the way into the human heart and soul is through story. Sharing a story with another is a deeply intimate opening that reveals the truth of our experience beyond the superficial façade or persona that we all hide behind. Story helps us discover the core of our unique personal myth, the secret at the center. Helen Luke reminds us that:

A real story touches not only the mind but also the imagination and the unconscious depths in a person, and it may remain with him or her though many years, coming to the surface of consciousness now and then to yield new insights … (p. 97)

…In a story the living confrontation of the opposites and the transcendent symbol that resolves the conflict speak directly to the listener’s mind, heart, and imagination in the same images. (p. 96)

[Helen Luke In The Way of Women: Awakening the Perennial Feminine]

 

These few reflections highlight the power that resides in the brilliant interaction among storyteller, story and listener. As experienced in the stories shared in the Look What SHE Did! video canon of amazing women, one glimpses the heartfelt revelations of contributions and ideas that transform individuals and the collective as well. One also senses an emerging tapestry woven with threads of connection and on-going influence spanning generations while creating a three-dimensional testament to the power of women and their stories to inform, inspire and transform. Look What SHE Did!Changing History, One Woman at a Time.

Julie A Sgarzi PhD received her doctorate in Depth Psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute. She is also on the Board of Look What SHE DID!

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