As an Author, Storyteller and Graduate School Instructor in Oral Traditions, I am always searching for ways to illustrate how STORY can be used as a tool for shaping our personal and professional lives.
We live in a constellation of inter-related stories which affect us powerfully, often in unseen ways.
One of the most startling examples I have come across lately is in the growing awareness of something researchers are now calling “story fields”. This term was coined by writer Tom Atlee who explains that he borrowed it from the world of physics, in which a gravitation (or magnetic) field refers to a zone of dynamic potential that shapes the behavior of all that is within its range.
Many of us remember the experiment some long-ago science teacher showed us in class: We scattered specks of iron filings on a sheet of paper then held a magnet underneath. Almost magically, the bits of iron formed a recognizable pattern of concentric circles radiating out from the poles of the magnet.
Atlee suggests that a story field is a psycho-social field of influence that shapes the awareness and behavior of individuals and groups within a culture. Whether you are telling a family story around the kitchen table or holding a press conference in the White House, you are generating story fields which join with other mutually-reinforcing stories to form a cultural narrative which frames what is real, acceptable and possible in our world.
Generating Story Fields
Here are two examples of story fields generated by leaders in the past:
National Public Radio recently ran a report of a letter written by President Lyndon Johnson to comedians Tom and Dick Smothers, famous for using the president as a target for their humor on the hugely-popular and ground-breaking television show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. An excerpt from the president’s letter was read on the final installment of the show on April 20, 1969:
“It is part of the price of leadership to this great and free nation to be the target of clever satirists. You have given the gift of laughter to our people. May we never grow so somber or self-important that we fail to appreciate the humor in our lives.”
And, as President John Kennedy famously said in his 1961 inaugural speech, “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
The stories surrounding these phrases generate what many would consider to be essential elements of the American Way of Life; free speech and selfless service.
As modern-day storytellers, story creators and practitioners of the ancient art of story, what can we do to generate positive story fields which will move the nudge the culture in a direction which will allow us to care for ourselves and for each other?
Part of the answer may lie in simply being aware of the stories we generate, simply by living and speaking. A further step would be consciously shaping a narrative which takes us in the direction we need to go.
I have always been inspired by this powerful insight from William Isaacs, author of Dialogue, The Art of Thinking Together.
As we begin to embody our own genuine expression, we find our voice has magic in it. Consider the magic word itself: abracadabra. It comes from an ancient Middle Eastern language, Aramaic, spoken from the seventh century B.C. to the seventh century A.D.
The phrase is said to come from the Kabbalistic tradition, a form of Jewish mysticism. It is the incantation used to remind the Kabbalists of the power of their speech.
Abra comes from the Aramaic verb bra, meaning to create. Ca translated to “as”. Dabra is the first person of the verb daber,” to speak”.
In other words, abracadabra literally means ‘I create as I speak.”
Story fields, by their very nature, permeate and shape our thoughts, dreams, aspirations and behavior.
If Isaacs in right, and I think he is, the creation of positive and life-affirming story fields lies at the very heart of what it now means to be human on this spinning planet. And if we are to survive, we had better start getting good at it.
We create as we speak!