What the dwarf knew about telling stories

Last year, we were struggling with how to convey wicked, dark, fantasy tales which had resulted from some frontline workshops about how people felt about a big merger. We had documented (audio, then transcribed) stories which came out of groupwork, called things like “Snow White and the Seven Vertically Challenged Civil Servants” and “The Car in Front” (a car manufacturere where the parts were from Volve, the process from Toytoa and the instruction manual from Ford) and “Recycled Geezers” (the inappropriate merger of a scrapyard and an old people’s home). These wild, naughty tales triggered much greater insight into some complex and (we thought) valid emotions. They held uncomfortable truths. But how were we to report back to senior management, the Board of the great and the good, some of hte uncomfortable truths told through these fantastical tales?

How could we create the listening space which might encourage the Board to take on board the insights?

At the time I was reading Herman Hesse’s Fairy Tales. They are an odd mixture of the ordinary and the extraordinary – mixing fairytale symbolism wiht contemporary issues of war and alienation. Some of them also touch on the theme of storytelling. It was one of these, in “The Dwarf” which caught my attention. It is an old story of a beautiful lady, a love potion, fidelity, infidelity ” all that is at the heart of every adventure and tale, old and new” as Hesse says. Filippo the Dwarf is a master storyteller, whose job is to entertain his mistress (whose bad treatment of him leads to a dark ending, but you’ll have to read the story yourself to find out what happens). (My bold in the quote that folows).

“He had learned the art of storytelling in the Orient, where storytellers are highly regarded. Indeed, they are magicians, and will play with the souls of their listeners as a child plays with a ball.

His stories rarely began in foreign countries, for the minds of listeners cannot easily fly there on their own powers. Rather, he always began with things that people can see with their own eyes, whether it be a golden clasp or a silk garment. Then he led the imagination of his mistress imperceptibly wherever he wanted, talking first about the people who had previously owned the jewels or about the makers and sellers of the jewels. The story floated naturally and slowly from the balcony of the palace into the boat of the trader and drifeted from the boat into the harbour and onto the ship and to the farthest spot of the world. It did not matter who his listeenrs were. They would all actually imagine themselves on this voyage, and while they sat quietly in Venice, their minds would wander about serenely or anxiously on distant seas and in fabulous regions Such was the way Filippo told his stories.”

And that is what we did. We play 3 stories, leading from the factual to the fantastical, each a two or three minute listening experience.

Another time, I might write about the impact, but the purpose of this post to think out loud about making listening spaces.


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