Listening is key

The healing power of storytelling

social scienceDemetrios Vital, Professional Development SpecialistMay 29, 2020

“Trauma, illness, and grief create frightening forests of pain with unfamiliar roads. In such a context, listening to stories suggests myriad pathways out of dark forests,” explains communications and folklore scholar SunWolf, in this recent article about the healing power of storytelling.

The IDEAL Center of the Science Museum of Minnesota facilitates professional development programs focused on increasing inclusion, diversity, equity, and access in schools, workplaces, and communities. The IDEAL Center's mission has been to heal relationships with the earth and with each other, and that is crucial for every person in our society in this time of illness and social distancing. SunWolf's research affirms that telling our stories can help heal.

"I have a greater understanding of how story needs to be welcomed in, and sought out, in all areas of our work," wrote a university professor participating in an IDEAL Center workshop.

To welcome in stories and healing, we need to practice both listening and voicing: learning how to voice their own personal stories and hear others' is part of the personal transformation that IDEAL Center participants experience. One way to welcome in stories and healing is for IDEAL Center participants to participate in "dyads:" two partners sit face-to-face, and each partner takes turns listening, silently and generously, for as much as two minutes, while their partner has those same two minutes to share their words. You can do this too, even digitally, on the phone or by video chatting, which can help relieve anxiety during these difficult times. SunWolf offers an idea from West African folklore, in which the healers ask the sick these three questions:

  • When was the last time that you sang?

  • When was the last time that you danced?

  • When was the last time that you shared a story?

You can answer these questions in a journal, or you can find someone who will listen for two whole minutes while you answer those questions, after which you will listen to their answers for two whole minutes. Give your voice to your story and listen to each other as our society heals together.