What’s the last movie that made you cry? What’s the last photo that haunted you? What’s the last book you couldn’t drop? What qualities did they have that marked you?
Humans are wired for stories. They are infused into all aspects of our life. They materialize from an early age and are linked to all the cultures known in the world. Stories capture the mosaic of life around us and open our eyes, cultivate understanding, transcend stereotypes and boundaries, forge connections and inspire action and global change.
Stories are so powerful, in fact, that they trigger a chemical reaction in our brain. A well-told story can cause our brains to synthesize oxytocin, a chemical sometimes referred to as a “love hormone,” which makes us more empathetic and likely to feel connected to another person. Quite simply, storytelling is one of the most transformative tools for inspiring others to think and take action. This is why storytelling is an integral part of leadership. As psychologist Howard Gardner describes it, stories are “the most powerful weapon in the leader’s literary arsenal. It is no coincidence, then, that some of the world’s best-known leaders also captivated the speakers. Martin Luther King, Jr.. Oprah Winfrey. Abraham Lincoln.
So, if storytelling and leadership are undeniably powerful together, why do education systems rarely focus on developing storytelling skills at a young age? Even most of the photography classes I attended in high schools focused on the mechanics of photography rather than the magic of history. How should we empower young people to tell hard-hitting stories, the kinds of stories that will help them guide our planet to a better future?
I asked four world-famous storytellers for their advice: videographer Sandesh Kadur, photographer Erika Larsen, cartographer and computer graphics expert Kelsey Taylor, and audio producer Katie Thornton. Collectively, they have decades of experience working with media as diverse as our globe. From their insightful responses, three key themes emerged as ways to empower young people to make their mark in the world through the power of history.
1. Remind young people that they are, like everyone else, natural storytellers.
Erika Larsen says we can “help young people remember that they are fundamentally engaged in history from birth – and not just that, but that they are history. As clear as they are of the flesh, they are a story. Katie Thornton echoed this sentiment and highlighted the ease of storytelling via social media, noting that “young people have been given tools to create short stories via Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat. But I think a lot of young people are hungry for more information, and to consume and create long-lasting media. Educators can recognize that young people are already creating stories through their social media presence and inspire them to think about ways to expand and expand their storytelling activities for good.
2. Encourage the young people to look for threads of compelling stories in their daily lives, from what interests them to what interests them most.
“Start by asking your students what they want to tell stories to and who they want to hear who may not already be represented in the program or in the media,” Thornton recommends. “Trust that your students have unique insight into the stories that need to be told, stories that the mainstream media or the education system may miss. ”
Once the young people have set their goal, help them gain confidence in their idea. “Encourage them to trust their instincts and remember that only they have their unique point of view,” says Kelsey Taylor. “There are a lot of voices out there, I find it important for me to remember what makes mine unique. ”
Sandesh Kadur agrees that young people have the power to uncover important stories, those that only them are able to tell. He advises them to “look through a lens that is different from what you are normally used to or what you normally see around you. It will help shape your stories and make them more unique. To help young people find meaningful stories that can impact the planet, Kadur also advises educators “to encourage young people to go out, to explore the world around them, to connect with people from different backgrounds. and face the harsh realities we are living in. It can really open their minds and not only see things for what they are, but also relate what they see to underlying issues that most people don’t see.
3. Help young people find the tools to bring their stories to life.
Equally important is finding the right way to share the story. Larsen says a challenge for young people is to choose “tools that match their personal expression of their vision and voice.”
The equipment doesn’t have to be fancy, however. “With a few little tricks, students can get good sound quality on their cell phones,” says Thornton. Educators can encourage young people to use the tools they already use every day. “Lower barriers to entry and let your students train and practice without committing to production training or expensive software. If they love to tell stories, there are plenty of affordable ways to scale up to produce better quality work.
We’re all in storytelling, and it’s so versatile that I encourage everyone to ask themselves: how can I encourage the young people in my life to find the stories that are personally meaningful to them? What are the stories that motivate? Who provide contextualization or connection? Young people shape our future in countless ways, so what better way to step up their efforts than through the unifying power of history?