Storytelling is a powerful tool in understanding others, ourselves, and the world around us. Stories can inspire and motivate, and help people articulate their thoughts and feelings.
Stories can also help people to think critically, making them potentially less vulnerable to extremist viewpoints, and more open to understanding the complexities of other people’s journeys, beliefs and backgrounds. Scientists have also shown that certain stories awaken different parts of the brain (as opposed to factual information), and help us prepare for interactions in the “real world”.
Stories can be fiction or non-fiction, mythical or biographical. They can be told through a through a range of mediums, including writing, speech, music and art. Stories can help document our history, and shape our future.
Step Together spoke to Dimitrios Papelexis to understand more about the power of storytelling.
Dimitrios is the founder of Soul Gen, an organisation specialising in Asset Based Community Development (ABCD), where his team use creative arts to harness individual and community strength for social change and innovation.
Step Together (ST): Dimitrios, how do you define storytelling?
Dimitrios Papelexis (DP): Storytelling is the art of telling a story intentionally, and aiming to achieve a particular outcome. It’s important to choose your story carefully, learn how to share specific elements, and aim to deliver it in a way that will reach people and mean something to them.
ST: Can you tell us a bit about your work in engaging others in storytelling?
DP: I have been using storytelling in my work with individuals and groups for quite a few years now. Stories are powerful as they can pass on important messages and inspire others to take positive action. I started my storytelling career in a playback theatre troupe. Playback theatre “plays back” stories of the audience members, using movement and sound. I then worked in a Sydney LGA on a strength-based project called “Everyone has a Story”. Here we ran a series of workshops where people moved from a victim to a protagonist role, as they workshopped their stories and connected with other participants – uncovering their creative strengths. I then toured with my playback theatre troupe to regional Australia and performed at many disability events. I’ve also co-designed a creative career program for young people, and am currently in the creative team of Mind Blank, using forum theatre for mental health awareness and suicide prevention.
ST: What are some of the benefits of storytelling?
DP: Storytelling is in our DNA. Stories allow for creative expression, and provide an opportunity for people and communities to understand each other. Sharing personal and community stories can help define our identity. Stories can also be used as narrative therapy, where we ask people to narrate and reflect on our own life story, as a way of understanding themselves, and their place in the wider world. A powerful story can take you on a journey where you can experience life through the lens of different characters and learn more about yourself and the world. Storytelling is an art form that can entertain, inspire, teach and contribute to individual and community healing, through the development of empathy and cross-cultural understanding.
ST: What is one of your favourite stories?
DP: One of my favourite stories is the “Hero’s Journey” which is a Monomyth (a common theme or plot that underlines a lot of different myths or stories). It is considered the story behind all stories as it talks about the journey of the hero (the mythical one but also the everyday hero- you and me). He (or she) starts off in the ordinary world, hears a calling or faces a crisis, and must go to the unknown. There the hero meets enemies and allies and has to face his fears, and either transforms, or doesn’t survive. If the hero survives, he discovers a secret ability that he didn’t know he had, and makes his way back to the ordinary world with a great story to share. I like this story, as it helped me make sense of my own journey when I moved from Australia to Brazil, where the transition was difficult, as I was in a new country. I faced the unknown and went through many challenges. But out of the challenges came my passion for story-telling, theatre, and community development, which I now love sharing with others.
ST: How can we all become more active story tellers?
DP: We can become better story tellers when we believe in the value of story-telling, and find the confidence to share our own stories. Seek out opportunities to participate in formal or informal storytelling, and you will see the value storytelling brings to both individual and community wellbeing.
If you need help or advice on how best to support someone, our trained counsellors can help. We’re available 7am – 9pm, seven days a week. If you need to talk, give one of our Step Together counsellors a call on 1800 875 204 or use our anonymous online chat service.