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Good Storytelling and History

Why study history? Why bother with stories? The two questions are more closely related than you may think. As a history teacher I begin each year by asking my students why we should study history. The standard answer is so we can learn from our past mistakes.

Although I am very much in favor of learning from past mistakes, I tend to take Mark Twain’s view of history. He once quipped, “history may not repeat itself, but it certainly does rhyme.” Humanity seems to have a hard time learning from its past mistakes.

So then why study history and what does this have to do with storytelling? We should study history because some things are worth remembering. When I remember the lives of great men and women from the past, I am affected by their examples. I want to live differently. I am reminded that if I can see far at all, it is only because I stand on the shoulders of giants. I am able to see the folly of modern prejudices, what C.S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery.”

Good Storytelling (and when I say “good” I mean what the Greeks would call “The Good” or “The Beautiful”) confronts my deep places with people and ideas worth remembering. Certainly there is benefit in telling funny stories simply to be funny, but as humanity continues to struggle with self-destructive tendencies, we need Good Stories. We need to be reminded of the Great Truths that are worth remembering.

That is why I study history. That is why I tell stories.

Good Storytelling is more than entertainment, although there is no reason why it can not be entertaining. Good Storytelling is a high calling and an opportunity to remind individuals of Great Truths. To be a great storyteller you certainly need some great and entertaining stories, but you must include Good Stories in your program as well.

Where do you find Good Stories? Certainly mythologies and folk tales contain Good Stories, but this is where we can also look to history. If you enjoy telling folk tales from a particular cultural group, look into that group’s history and search for men and women who lived lives worth remembering. As a Christian storyteller not only am I encouraged by biblical heroes, but by the lives of saints both historical and modern

When you choose to tell the stories of people worth remembering, you find yourself in the company of Homer, Virgil, and the anonymous preservers of Beowulf and The Song of Roland. You do your community a service, and you will find the deep places of yourself strengthened in the effort.

Search. Remember. Tell

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