Fairies and fairy stories

Fairies and fairy stories

Fairies and fairy stories

“You don’t need to believe in fairies to enjoy fairy stories” Simon Reeve said on his visit to Ireland. Seems obvious, put like that, doesn’t it? He could have added ‘and benefit from the fairy stories’, too. Simon was treading a delicate path about religion in a country where there is still fervent, not to say assertive, religious belief. Acknowledging his own lack of faith he was reassuring us that the stories that faith gives rise to can be valuable, enjoyable and uplifting. I found it refreshing that a good reporter could openly appreciate something he felt unable to possess.

The parables – some of them at any rate – may or may not have been true. The question is ‘does it matter?’ If their intention is to attract our attention, make us think about what they are suggesting as behavioural styles and lead us down a logical path to our own conclusions, they are doing a great job. I think of them often when I am preparing roleplays for clients who need rather hasty experiences to deal with unfamiliar circumstances. Roleplays aren’t historical truths. They are trial situations like those you may encounter and for which you need to be prepared.

In practice, well-written roleplays often turn out to be remarkably similar to events that subsequently happen. Nothing strange or mystic about that. Life patterns recur in one from or another between different societies and workplaces. It would be odd if we couldn’t predict them to some extent. What is interesting is that the variations between them seem greater than they really are. A conflict is a conflict whether inaugurated by Trump or your boss.

Judging by pictures carved on the walls of caves and rock sides, early humans seem to have used stories as the basis of much of their education. This is not surprising. With its format of wake-up-call followed by stimulating development and morally / practically useful conclusion the story packs all the attention-getting ingredients necessary to teach. It then demonstrates logic or reason or unreason. This is rounded off by the purpose of the story. A neat bundle of learning.

So why is storytelling in decline? Well, all creative output is challenged by the availability of canned entertainment with its ability to use technology for extreme effects. The violence and noise thus generated is far from a good lesson but it is still, alas, education. Children love technology, especially if their parents struggle with it. Their natural dexterity makes them more proficient at it than older people. It is inevitable that some instant gratification is provided by the internet. The down side of it is that there may be little time left for family activities and personal creativity.

To give your children or grandchildren a chance to blossom, teach them story-telling. Initially get them to make up stories about people they meet or those sitting at the next table in a restaurant. It’s a wonderful way to expand their minds and have them compete with other children in a gentle and productive way. It will make them very observant as well as encouraging them to think beyond what they see. Record their stories and play them back. Children love to broadcast.

Develop this ‘game’ into making up wild stories about everyone they meet, especially those they have to make decisions about. Don’t judge a fellow human only by his or her appearance. Imagine them in highly improbable situations and guess what they would do then. It is often not the strong and commanding who run the world most successfully but the thoughtful and patient.

Many years ago I asked a friend who had the greatest influence on people. I thought he would say the Pope or the President of the USA. “The person who can tell a good story to make us think for ourselves,” he replied.

I reckon he was right.

Can you do that?