Storytelling: “Make Me Care”

Bridging the Gap
Between Mind and Heart

“A simple story breathes life into information
people want to share with each other.”

– International Storytelling Center

“Viewed aright, this year presents the single greatest worldwide
opportunity there has ever been for connecting hearts to Baha’u’llah.”

– Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 2017

What better time than now – the Holy Anniversary Years – for Baha’is to share dramatic and moving stories of the Bab and Baha’u’llah, along with the heroic days of the Dawnbreakers? Yet Baha’is do not always feel confident telling the stories of the Faith they love. One Wilmette Institute course set out to change that.

The Bab and Baha’u’llah: Two Lives, One Story is a course created with The Story of Baha’u’llah: Promised One of All Religions as its primary resource. A thread that runs throughout the course is A Closer Look at Storytelling, a series of seven original videos, about ten minutes each, and three shorter videos from other sources. Their purpose is not to turn out storytelling experts in seven weeks, but to introduce a few basic principles, practices, and a little brain science as a source of practical assistance and encouragement. As the videos illustrate, anyone can grow their storytelling comfort zone and make story a natural part of their path of service.

The Shrine of the Bab at SunsetStory bridges the gap between mind and heart. The first videos highlight both the storyteller’s most important goal – to make listeners care about the story being told – and the collaborative nature of storytelling. The audience, whether one friend or a roomful of people, bring their own world experience to the listening experience; they bring mind, heart, and imagination. An effective storyteller creates a connection that taps into these inherent listener resources to bring a story to life. Practical tools to facilitate this process are explored in the videos that follow.

Baha’i activities offer a range of storytelling opportunities and Baha’i culture supports a learning approach, which makes clear that expertise is not required to begin storytelling, but can be acquired with practice in real-life settings. This mindset, and the science which supports it, is also part of the video series, along with suggestions for creating supportive accompaniment. To broaden the picture, contemporary uses of storytelling – such as peace-building, cross-cultural empathy, community conversation – are mentioned, as well as modes of storytelling in diverse cultures. The universal truth is clear: wherever you are, “A good story can change you.” (Dr. Paul J. Zak, scientist)

The Story of Baha’u’llah by Druzelle Cederquist is a good fit to learn about storytelling. It is the first biography of Baha’u’llah and the Bab (Whose story is woven throughout Part 1) that is written as creative nonfiction, a contemporary genre defined here by one of its leading proponents:

“The word ‘creative’ refers simply to the use of literary craft in presenting nonfiction – that is, factually accurate prose about real people and events – in a compelling, vivid manner. To put it another way, creative nonfiction writers do not make things up; they make ideas and information that already exist more interesting and, often, more accessible.” – Lee Gutkind

What does it look like in The Story of Baha’u’llah? In contrast to the usual historical narrative, this biography unfolds like a novel, with story tensions that build and resolve and urge a reader on with the universal story question, “What will happen next?” At appropriate places there are touches of sensory detail, scenes, and a sense of character interaction, with the voice of Baha’u’llah in His Writings integrated naturally into events as they occur. The reader is immersed in not only the outer journey of events, but also the inner emotional journey that accompanies them, a hallmark of fiction but applied with stringent accuracy to the biographical facts. No dialogue is invented or facts conjectured. Everything is grounded in Baha’i Writings and other primary resources. (Read Excerpts)

Ms. Cederquist states that, while her comfort zone as a storyteller is on the written page, many principles for writing a story that engages readers apply to live storytelling that engages listeners. These principles, with examples from the book, are at the heart of A Closer Look at Storytelling created by the author.

“Make Me Care” – Andrew Stanton (Pixar)

— Druzelle Cederquist

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A Closer Look at Storytelling
Video Series Annotated:

Introduction

  • Why Baha’i storytellers? Aqa Buzurg and the power of story
  • First step for storytellers

Creating Connection

  • Defining the goal of storytelling; the collaborative nature of storytelling
  • More storytelling preparation

Take Me With You

  • Storytelling tools: scenes, sensory detail, story tension
  • Creating support through practice with others

Take Me With You – Part 2

  • What we care about: the inner and outer journeys of people who take action
  • Storytelling tools: two-people scenes, comparison and contrast, more

A Little Brain Science

  • The power of story to change brain chemistry and people’s behavior; story arc
  • Adrianople: One example to illustrate stages of dramatic story arc

“Make Me Care”

  • Cultural diverse storytelling; various ways for storyteller to present story
  • How storytelling is used for social change in contemporary times
  • StoryCorps and changes in attitude documented in its listeners

“Kam Kam, Ruz bih Ruz”

  • Brain science, a growth mindset, and how a storyteller’s brain can change
  • The learning process: helpful concepts supported by science and Baha’i Writings
  • A Visual Paradigm for Creative Growth

Additional short videos from other sources:

Wisdom in the Age of Information – by Maria Popova
The important role of contemporary storytellers; animation of short essay written and narrated by writer Maria Popova

Empathy, Neurochemistry, and the Dramatic Arc – by Dr. Paul J. Zak
Scientific studies that show changes in brain and behavior of people who view/listen to a moving story. Research by Dr. Paul J. Zak

Eyes on the Stars – StoryCorps
Short animation of personal story which also illustrates story arc; a remembrance of physicist, astronaut, and Baha’i Ronald E. McNair narrated by his brother

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Druzelle CederquistDruzelle Cederquist is author of The Story of Baha’u’llah: Promised One of All Religions. Her website Luminous Realities http://druzellecederquist.com/ features reader enrichments for the book – videos, photos, printable timelines, maps, and more – as well as a sampling of her published poetry and short essays. She has a B.A. in English Literature, an M.A. with concentration in Teaching English as a Second Language, and experience as a writing workshop leader.

The Story of Baha’u’llah is written as creative nonfiction to “bridge the gap between mind and heart, knowledge and insight.” She explains this relatively new genre in Creative Nonfiction: Breathing Life into a Body of Facts.

Her Creative Paradigm: Strategies, Practices, and Attitudes for a Creative Life features a visual model of practical principles drawn from arts, science, and the Baha’i Faith, which she wrote about in her blog Luminous Realities: Exploring the Creative Process and presented at the Association for Baha’i Studies conference on Religion and the Evolution of Consciousness.

Druzelle has been a Baha’i since 1972, and part of Baha’i community life in Indiana, Nigeria, New York, and now Austin, Texas. She and her husband have two grown sons and one delightful grandson! She is currently at work on the biography, “’Abdu’l-Baha and the Destiny of America,” a companion volume to The Story of Baha’u’llah.

For a more personal introduction visit her Author page.

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