The power of storytelling

I rarely do personal posts, but something in my recent interaction with my children, currently 3 and 5 years old, prompted me to write one.

I am a lousy disciplinarian. I don’t like to tell people what to do or to structure their time. In the case of my children, it leads to many lovingly spent hours where I tend to follow their whims and their moods, good or bad. I am sometimes able to reverse the bad (and I always enjoy the good), but I can’t stop wishing I was better at it and could do it successfully every time.

My daughter is generally a very nice, responsible child, but she has her bad moments every once in a while. During one of those, she told me and her baby brother that she wished we were just not there. Unwilling to let this go, I told her a story about a little girl who wished away her parents and her little brother, and then started missing them terribly but could not bring them back (of course, eventually, she did, and they all lived happily ever after). I was surprised how this story was met with captivated silence, as both children forgot their play and just sat there listening. When I was done, my daughter told me that she felt a little bit tearful, and that she would never say nasty things to us again.

A little while ago, my daughter was playing with a bowl of dirty water, and, predictably, toppled it over and spilled the water all over the floor. It was late, I was tired, so I snapped at her. In response, she told me a story about a little boy who was making bread with his mommy and dropped an egg, so that it cracked and made a mess all over the table. He was afraid that his mommy would get angry, but she only smiled and said “It’s OK.” She told me they read this story in a book at her day care, and she often wishes I would be like that mommy and don’t scold her for accidents or something she did not mean to do.

I felt exactly the way she did: tearful, and resolving never to scold her again. I apologized. And then, I thought of how much power stories have over us, serving as much more effective forms of discipline, and communication, than other words could ever be. It is said that one picture is worth a thousand words. In a way, one story is the same, it’s worth a thousand explanations.

I also thought of how the stories my daughter and I told to each other did it in different ways. My story reflected the reality as is. My daughter’s painted the reality as she wanted it to be. Both reached their targets, more efficiently than anything else we could have said at the time.

As a writer, I realize that every time I write, I am wielding this power of storytelling, one of the most ancient powers that can be ever put into words. I have the power to reflect and alter reality, make it good or bad, paint the visions others can relate to massively. Different visions reach different people, we all find the ones that work for us. When they work well, it can be a truly powerful feeling.

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About Anna Kashina

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