Tell Me a Story and I Will Tell You Mine

Nothing Comes Close to the Power of Storytelling for Human Communication


This time of political divisiveness and isolation reminds me of the power and grace of storytelling. It is, at once, a social convention and an art form. We need it now more than ever.

Like most people, I have always enjoyed a good story. I am fortunate at this point in life to live in an area that revers good storytelling. Here in Appalachia, storytelling is celebratedand practiced widely. It is still a primary means of communication and of social bonding. Storytelling around here routinelydraws a full house of enthusiastic and respectful listeners.

Two recent events are bringing that lesson of storytelling’s power home to me again.

Storytelling Up Close and Personal

The founder of Story Corps was recently here in Asheville, as I noted in a recent posting. His is a unique model. Two people share a conversation. Most often they are telling their story about their relationship. The stories are recorded and deposited in the Library of Congress. Over 500,00 so far and counting.

Many are shared on the Story Corps web site (, or on its YouTube and blog outlets. They are amazing in their humanity, depth, and connectivity. We are privileged to hear very private conversations about relationships and related matters. They are inspiring, even the humblest of them.

Sitting Around a Global Campfire and Sharing Stories

One another scale of storytelling, we are, as I write this, about to hit the road. We are off to join the International Storytelling Festival, in Jonesboro, TN. I have mentioned this place before. You should go. Thousands from all over the world come to a small town in the foothills of Tennessee. They come to hear the best storytellers on the planet work their magic.

In tents gigantic and small, a person walks up to the microphone. They proceed to transport others into a shared experience of great distinction. Some are funny, some are sad. All are thoughtful and brimming over with communication obvious and subtle. Each storyteller has their own approach about how best to do this. Some are known worldwide (Pete Seeger was a regular, for example). Others are only known within the world of storytelling. But within this global community, many are legends. Others are legends in the making – it’s not hard to recognize them.

Some accompany themselves with music. Some incorporate dance or other physical elements. Most just sit down and start weaving a spell. The effect on the assembled masses is amazing. By the time the storytelling is done, everyone feels connected. They are connected to the storyteller and to each other. We will be connecting with friends we have not seen for years; we will make new friends as well. I will let you know how it went this year.

The most astute political and social leaders know the power of stories. Used well, they surpass (and enable) facts and data in speaking to us. Not that many leaders do storytelling very well, and it is a power that can be misused.

Shall We talk?

We do well to argue less and instead to say, “Tell me your story. How did you come to be who you are and to believe what you believe?

We would be better off, and be better people, if we sought out the stories of others. We might even find valuable insights by telling our own stories. Let’s talk.

     Bill Clontz

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2 replies to Tell Me a Story and I Will Tell You Mine

  1. Thanks for info. Would be interesting to hear stories in Jonesboro. My Dad is 90 and participated in an Oklahoma Centennial project that made a small booklet of early OK Hispanic settlers’ stories. His family story was also in a Tulsa museum exhibit of early settlers in OK. As for my story, I need to live longer to be able to share one worth telling as I only have the beginning and middle. I have watched the PBS program of story tellers, and I’m amazed hearing them.

    • Interesting your Oklahoma connection. Quite a few of the work-class storytellers over the weekend had Okie backgrounds.

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