Story as the Shape of Our Listening
“The Lessons learnt from Listening Teams”
Those of us who use story as a
healing art know that “telling” is only half the story. Even
though we name our skill “storytelling,” we know the
hidden half is the “story-listening.” What good is a
story if no one listens?
This essay will argue that
“listening” needs to be given a status equal to the
“telling.“ It will explore the agency that belongs to
the listener. By conceptualizing “story” as a force that shapes
our listening as much as it shapes our telling, we want to take
listening into the center of narrative theory, rather than have
it remain only as an afterthought.
First, let’s explain our basic
term. By “life story” we mean how, through the
construction of language, we give an account of our experience,
of what happened to us in our lives. We view “experience” (what
happened) and the “story of experience” (the account of what
happened) as two related but separate ideas. Experience may
have a natural narrative quality to it as Stephen Crites
argues. But we leave that question to the philosophers. Our
attention is focused on how the story we tell shapes the
experience that our listeners receive. And we recognize among
those listeners the key listener, namely ourselves, and how we
hear our own story.
This reflection is inspired by
our research at the Center for Narrative Studies,
and the particular method we have discovered for training
Listening Teams described in the second part of the paper.
The Stories We Listen Through
I once did an interview at the
Center with an acquaintance I will call Gail who told me about
her alcoholic father. Between his binges, he would ignore her,
but whenever he came home drunk, he would physically abuse her
because she was “slacking off at school.”
“I was never good enough for
him,” she said, tears streaming down her face.
After a harrowing
account of her second divorce from an abusive partner, she
described what I knew to be true about her adult career, that
she was a highly successful manager at a reputable company. When
I asked her how she had accomplished so much, she explained,
“There was really
no one else they could have picked. I just fell into those
She shrugged off my suggestion
that her talents might have had something to do with it. As we
wrapped up our session, I asked how the interview was for her.
“I thought this was going to be
MY story,” she said.
“How do you mean?” I stammered.
“You kept interrupting with all
your dumb questions.”
“But I thought I was merely
“Men! Why won’t they ever let
me have my say?”
I remember being stunned. I had
asked barely half a dozen questions in the space of a
Story as a Listening Frame
After we tried to talk through
our different perceptions of a shared experience, it occurred to
me that Gail’s lament about male victimization was not simply
part of the story she told. It was the story through which she
heard the whole transaction. Her story had also framed and
shaped the experience of her listening to herself.
I was shocked at her
accusation. Yet it forced me to examine what story I was
listening out of. I was the professional and caring narrative
analyst, asking what I thought were insightful questions. When I
heard my curiosity, she heard intrusion and judgment. My
surprise exposed my listening frame as much as her complaint
Looking for a Theory
After this experience, I spent
months puzzling over this listening dynamic. How do stories
frame out listening? I began researching the literature on
listening processes to find out how others had articulated the
relationship between the story we tell and the story we hear
told. Apart from a multitude of “How to“ texts that employed
the Sender-Receiver model, there was little I could build on.
I took these questions back
with me into my narrative practice and began to imagine the
listening as a space or a force field of stories. I wanted to
understand how a story was implicated in the listening process
as well as being the obvious point of the telling.
Where I discovered some answers
was first of all in group dynamics. The other inspiration was
something of a surprise, the theories of music appreciation.
Seeing the Listening Space-Group Story
Anyone who has experienced
group therapy will testify to the amazing impact of the opening
story, how it clears a pathway for other stories to be shared
that are somehow similar or connected. Those first words shape
the space into a particular place of reception in what some
writers describe as “colonizing the space.” As the group process
develops, later stories will often take their cue from those
shared earlier, so that one could almost map a narrative
genealogy of what story sprung from what story.
Sometimes, in the middle of a
session, a particular story will break a group open and totally
transform the listening space. For example, one member dares to
share his shame about his body, how fat and ugly he feels. The
listening space becomes charged with an energy that turns it
into a sanctuary. Others can now feel safe enough to share the
story of their own body shame.
The Twelve Step movement of
Alcoholics Anonymous works as a network of such narratives. The
listening space is ready to receive stories of pain and failure,
hope and recovery. Blame or censure does not belong. The
success of these groups, I believe, could as easily be
attributed to how consistently their stories shape a receptive
listening space, even though all the attention is on the drama
of the “drunkalogue.” What are all these stories of recovery
doing to the way the listeners attend to their own experience?
Clearly they are being invited to attend differently. In place
of drug-dependent despair, they are asked to hear a story of
hope, and the possibility that even their addiction can be
Stories are constantly shaping
the listening space of group life, charging it with a certain
type of receptivity, which makes openings for some types of
stories to be shared, and shutting down others. Group conflict
often occurs over whose story is to determine the shape of the
listening. I have witnessed this particularly as a group is
forming or accepting a new member who, if she misreads the shape
of the listening, will end up being dumped on.
In intense group therapy where
participants come to share their pain and struggle, a
participant who refuses to enter into the “pain story” is likely
to be heard as challenging the whole listening shape, thereby
provoking group pressure to conform. Stories that don’t fit
into the listening shape are not heard, or only heard as threats
and disruptions that stop me from “telling MY story,” as Gail
had complained to me in the beginning.
I remember observing an
addictions recovery group where the therapist invited the
participants to share their struggles with their “addict self.”
Some of the group wanted to share their triumphs over their
addictions instead, and the whole session became a battle over
what stories would shape the listening, ”Triumphs?” or
Group life is a
listening laboratory in which the web of stories intersect to
create a field of influence and reception that largely
determines what gets said and what gets heard.
Like Listening to Music
If any other area of study
besides group therapy has researched listening, it is music and
theories of music appreciation. They describe listening as a
dynamic of expectancy.
I, like most people, love
Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, especially when the instrumental
gives way to the choral finale. It is this anticipation of a
well-loved and well-listened to piece of music that adds to our
enjoyment. In the same way, I believe we can describe the story
that we listen through. There is an anticipation, of sunshine or
rain, failure or success, conflict or connection. Listening to
a story is like playing a guessing game of “what comes next?”
Like an eager child, it keeps prompting us to ask “And then
Songs and stories work on us by
allowing us to take an anticipatory stance, and enjoy the
unfolding of the plot or the tune according to how we expect it
to go. When the unexpected totally disturbs the predictable
pattern, a crisis of meaning prompts us to disqualify the
experience or challenges us to be open to a new story.
The music analogy takes us
further into praxis. It we learn to sing a tune by first
hearing it sung, then could we not say that we learn to tell a
story because we have first heard it told? If we sing out of
our listening, then we tell out of our hearing. Stories tune
the memory, and store emotional imprints that shape the way we
hear the world. Think of how easily that particular song on the
radio from our teenage years sweeps us away into an emotional
reverie. Stories act like songs to habituate our listening
stance, and tune us to anticipate life through one set of
sequences rather than another; for example, that life is a
tragedy and not a comedy, or life is a romance and not a farce.
In these recurring listening shapes are concealed some of our
fundamental orientations to life experience e.g., that life is a
gift or a burden.
Stories act as listening cues.
Their opening gambits-“Once upon a time” or “When I was a little
girl in Alabama” or “You’ll never believe this”- are all
formulae to cue us to listen in a certain way, to lend our
imaginations to the story with a certain economy of attention.
Just as new tunes evoke old
tunes because they recreate a similar melody or mood, we hear a
story of today as an evocation of yesterday. An earlier story
will tend to give prior shape to our listening and how we give
meaningful attention to present experience. Storying is always
a game of catching up to reality as it is emerging in the here
and now rather than as it is remembered.
Albert Camus, the famous French
existentialist, spoke of this when he explained how the story of
World War Two first gets to be told in the story form of Word
War One since that was the pre-existing shape of “the war
story.” When that shape is expanded or broken (by the Holocaust
or Hiroshima, for example) the crisis becomes an opportunity for
more of reality or a different slice of reality to come to our
attention. That, says Camus, is the role of the artist; to
break the old molds and give us new ways of experiencing the
real, namely new ways of listening.
Music appreciation and group
therapy provide us with some new ways to describe the dynamics
of listening to a story. But with what conclusions?
Two things were much clearer
to me. First, storytelling never happens in a vacuum. And
second, no listening space is neutral. The space into which we
speak is already shaped by other stories. Now, before I tell a
story or deliver a lecture, I imagine the space before me as
carrying a valence of reception, one that has already been
shaped by previous lectures and stories. My audience is already
used to attending to a particular narrative style. If I want to
be heard, I need to somehow accommodate my material to fit the
shape of their listening. I may even hope to change the
valence, but I ignore it at my peril. I now look back on some
public lecture disasters in my history and can now articulate
what went wrong. The shape of my telling did not meet the shape
of their listening.
Imagining listening as a space
also allows me to see how the story I tell is somehow secondary
to the story that shapes the listening. For no matter what I
say, what matters in the end is what the audience thinks they
hear. Proof of this is the odd but familiar occurrence of
somebody coming up after a presentation to commend you for
saying something that you never said at all. “I loved the way
you compared Homer with Hemingway.” they say, when you thought
you were talking about Norman Mailer’s book on Marilyn Munroe.
If I have enough skill and
narrative persuasion, my story may be powerful enough to shift
the listening shape of the audience and affect how they hear
stories in the future. But only a handful of stories, I
suspect, are capable of doing this comprehensively. For
example, one imagines Jesus’ parables as being so destabilizing
of the narrative listening shape that ever after, the disciples
are attuned to ironic reversals of openings and closures, of
death through life, of light in darkness, etc.,
Such conclusions open up other
questions. If listening has a primary agency that we have
ignored up till now, what does this have to say about the way we
talk about our story work of therapy or ministry or
organizational consulting? Might it not incite a different story
altogether, especially our story of how we help people?
Listening- Curing the Problem or Feeding
People often come to therapists
locked in the prison of what Michael White calls “frozen
stories” (Narrative Means to Therapeutic Ends M. White &
D. Epston, Norton Publishers, NY 1991) stories of trouble that
they long to change but cannot. While we are trained to listen
empathetically, we usually consider our presence to be neutral,
something which facilitates the personal sharing of the
problem. However, if the primary agency belongs to the listener
and not the teller, how does that implicate me in the problem
sharing process? Might not all listening be in some way a
silent conspiracy with the teller?
If we attend to people’s
stories with such unqualified empathy that we allow the
“trouble” to envelop both the teller and us how do we escape the
listening shape that we have thus energized? If a narrative is
totally successful in recruiting its audience, what need is
there for change? Thus, the way we listen might be cementing
the person into the very problem from which he seeks to escape.
Listening can feed the problem it is supposed to solve.
Our listening is a way we hold
up anther’s reality. If the listening shape into which a person
speaks fits their story like a glove, the teller feels not only
their story is being affirmed but that their version of reality
is being validated. However, that version may be the problem.
If listening is critical to our work, how can we listen in a way
that honors the teller’s experience without being colonized by
Colonized by the Victim Story?
Let’s take an example. Imagine
Steve, a middle-aged professional, comes with a story about his
mother who was too high on cocaine to feed and change him as a
young child. He is angry at never getting the care he needed. I
suspect Steve will fully engage our attention and our empathy.
We will share his outrage towards the abusive parent, and be
moved to help him work though the pain. Our empathy, however,
may be as shaping of Steve’s story as it is our response to it.
Our listening stance as
professional carers (that’s how we are paid to listen) may be
the pre-determining shape that elicits this form of problem
story in the first place. Only by presenting us with a “problem
story” can Steve command our attention, activate our listening
story as “helper” and constitute us narratively in our helping
role. Steve’s victim story may be as much about the shape of
our listening as it is about the shape of his life.
We can disavow such complicity,
but the professional context may also predetermine the listening
shape no matter how much we might try to change it. You go to a
doctor with a story of “illness,” to an accountant or consultant
with financial or management questions, to a therapist with a
“problem.” The shape of the listening is given meaning by the
occupational context. Tell the therapist about your flu or your
bankruptcy and she will hear it as a psychological issue, not as
an invitation to give you Tylenol or help you file your tax
form. Our role as listeners, though a silent one, and the taken
for granted context in which we work can constitute the act of
telling as much as or even more than the act of telling itself.
The listening context prompts the story well before it becomes
our response to it.
When we ignore the listening
aspect of storytelling, we too easily overlook our role in this
mysterious dynamic and our narrative complicity in it. For
whoever shapes the listening invariably shapes the telling and
its meaning. Such is the undeclared conspiracy of listening.
A Call for Self-Listening
If we actually believed that
our listening counted equally in all our story work, we might
ask ourselves what might change in our practices? First of all,
I believe that giving a new primacy to listening would inspire
us to more introspection. We might hear ourselves more and try
to discover what story we are listening out of. Only then might
we untangle some of the conspiracies hidden in our silences.
What we have learnt in our work
is to try to declare the story of our silence, for we no longer
consider our listening position to be so professional as to be
unproblematic. Even if I am only the listener, my story
(as the professional helper) is being played out nevertheless by
the subtle way it is shaping the story that I hear being told to
me. (That someone needs my help) When I am telling my own story,
the prior stories that have shaped my self-listening will
ultimately affect whether I feel you have heard me or not. If
you don’t hear “me” the way I hear “me,” I will declare,” You
didn’t listen.” But it might simply mean that we are locked into
different stories of listening.
If we can identify the shape of
our listening, we can better understand the telling and
listening choices we make. We can explore other choices that
might do greater justice to the complexity of our lives and the
lives of the people who come to consult with us.
But how exactly does one do
this? How does anyone become aware of their habitual listening
patterns and move to a more conscious choice about what story
they want to listen out of. This is not so easily accomplished.
The narrative practices we train people in at the Center
for Narrative Studies explore ways of doing precisely
this. Let me illustrate by another example.
Life-Story Editing work
I once offered spiritual
direction to another therapist whom I will call Adam. In the
life story work that we do at the Center, we often tape and
transcribe the sessions so that the client has a text to work
from in follow-up.
Reading the text of all his
stories that I had given back to him weeks after our first
meeting, I asked him, “Which if any of these stories do you want
to continue shaping your life?”
For him, one incident clearly
stood out. Years before, he had counseled a married person
caught in a tangled gay relationship. It reminded Adam of his
own marital struggles to come to terms with his own
bisexuality. He had overheard himself advise his client to stop
living a lie, to choose where the deepest loyalty of his heart
lay. As a result, his client had come out and dramatically
changed his life course. For Adam, this “coming out” story was
the one that displayed the honesty that he now most wanted his
life to embody. He decided to step inside this particular story,
to take his own advice, and listen to the rest of his life
anchored in this text.
By telling that story in a
deliberate way to his wife and his boss, he chose to make
life-changing decisions, to quit his job, to leave his
marriage. He had come to recognize and reject the old story out
of which he was listening to his life, the “look good” story.
Now he claimed the new story of “be true” from where he had now
chosen to attend to his experience. By choosing that story in a
conscious and deliberate way, he was standing in another place,
and hearing his life differently, and thereby building a
different life, one that to this day continues to offer a
happiness he had never thought possible.
I believe that we all stand on
the ground of hidden stories to look out at the world and to
take it in. If we want to change our lives or choose different
paths, life doesn’t necessarily have to change, but the story we
stand in and on, does. If we can recognize the story that is
the shape of our listening, that which shapes our telling, then
we can move into another place by choosing a different story
just as Adam did.
Implications for Our Story Work
Let me share with you how this
listening-awareness has changed our whole narrative approach.
At the Center for
Narrative Studies in Washington DC, we as directors
began some years ago to practice narrative therapy, an approach
that takes the “story” metaphor and applies it to how people
frame meaning in their lives. It separates people from
problems, and treats problems as “problematic stories” rather
than inherent symptoms of mental disease. “The problem is the
problem, not the person.”
Partly because we as directors
were engaged in graduate work in literature and writing, we
found our attention drifting away from the “therapy” focus of
solving problems and more towards listening and appreciating the
story as a story. From a traditional emphasis on problems and
solutions, the terms often used by narrative therapists, we had
moved to a radical emphasis on listening and “literary
appreciation” in our practices. Responding to this way of
listening, clients reported significant life shifts but they
reported that it felt nothing like the usual talking cure. This
felt different. It was the ‘Listening cure’ because they did a
minimum of talking and a maximum of listening.
Over the years, the Center has
conducted regular seminars to train Listening Teams where
people come to tell us part of their life story and learn to
hear themselves and others in a new way. Using a panel of three
listeners who apply specific listening skills in a three-stage
process, a Listening Team invites the listening space to declare
itself, to speak back. The exercise allows for people to hear
more than just the story they tell. They hear how they hear
their own story.
The process always manages to
defy our best attempts to describe it. You have to experience it
for yourself. But even an incomplete picture may still give
readers some hint of what we do and invite further inquiry. (In
the appendix, you will find a copy of the guidelines that we
hand to participants.)
The process involves a
reflecting team of two or three persons who assume three
distinct listening positions as they listen and respond to a
story. Each position or stage is focused on three different
answers to the question, ”Where is the meaning of a text to be
found?” (see Biblical interpretation-An Integrated Approach
W. Randolph Tate Hendrickson 1997)
• Does it reside in the author?
• Does it reside in the text?
• Does it reside with the audience?
Drawn from contemporary theories of
literary criticism, these three responses are best illustrated by
walking you through an example.
Imagine Sandy comes to the
Listening Team and tells us of her painful divorce after 18 years of
being married to her childhood sweetheart. She describes her high
school romance, of falling madly and absolutely in love, and how she
and her husband both loved the outdoors and planting gardens
together. She is both laughing and crying as she tells the story,
”Funny how you never imagine it happening to you,” she keeps
repeating like a mantra. Three years ago, she overheard a phone
conversation between her husband and the “other woman.” That was the
beginning of the end.
After sharing her story in one
uninterrupted five-minute sequence, Sandy is invited to sit back and
listen to the panel share their responses as they go through the
Listening Teams-Stage One
The theory that informs the first
stage is that the meaning of a story resides with its teller, or
that the meaning is to be found within the intention of the author.
In this example, the panel listens from the teller’s perspective,
trying to honor what experience/affect she intended to convey as an
author. Meaning is deemed to lie behind the text within the
experience recreated by the author, a classical literary approach.
Among the comments played back,
Sandy might hear panelists saying things like-
• “I would like to honor Sandy and her story by witnessing to a
deep sense of sadness that became my listening experience. It
touches me in my body, around my heart which feels heavy or wrung
• “I imagine that if I were telling this story, I would be
intending to evoke this experience of total loss, of rupture, of my
life being torn apart.”
• “This story makes sense to me and connects with my own story
in that it stirs up memories of my own bitter divorce years ago. I
feel when I hear this story that I have been there too, and it is a
pretty desolate place at times.”
It is important in stage one of the
work to reference the experience rather than the story,
to make the distinction that the story evoked an experience but was
not the experience. What we are wanting to honor is that
experience created through the art of the story.
After all panelists share in the
dialogue, the team checks back in with the teller to ask if they
have done justice to the telling, and if they have permission to
move to the next step.
The panel now moves to a
perspective from inside the text itself; as to what the words
themselves convey. Meaning is deemed to lie within the text
as an experience of language and words, images and rhythm. It is
also heard as a narrative construct, with a beginning, middle and
end, character and plot, and point of view. This critical approach
owes its inspiration to what is called the New Criticism.
A sample of some responses Sandy
might hear at the second stage are-
• ”I would like to honor the poetic art that I hear in this
piece, particularly the way the narrator keeps repeating words like
“madly” and “absolutely” and “never.” It gives the text a high
charge of drama, and a sense of everything being at stake here.
This sounds like a high-stakes story.”
• “I was struck by the image of the blossoming tree. The
images of planting and the garden serve as a recurring motif. There
is a high degree of narrative art in the way all these are put
together, with the description of the high school romance at the
beginning to set up the dramatic tension for the betrayal at the
end. This provides the story’s rising arc of action and then, the
• “The way the narrator ends with the main character all alone,
sitting in her garden and crying, and, of all things, weeding- that
is such a vivid picture. I can feel the pathos. The question is
almost implied-what can I plant next? What will grow for me now?”
The panel pays particular attention
to words, and to the narrative structures. They refer to Sandy as
the “character” or the “Narrator.” At the end, they will check in
with Sandy to ensure she is comfortable with the process and if
there are any surprises in what she is hearing. Permission is asked
to proceed to the final stage.
The third and final step takes the
panel outside the text and into an audience position where they
function as a community of interpreters. Meaning is deemed to lie
in front of the text in the way it gets heard or read. In
modern literary theory, this is known as Reader Response theory.
In stage three, Sandy might hear
responses such as-
• ”I would like to share what I hear in this story and stress
that this is purely my hearing of it. It says everything about me
and nothing necessarily about the narrator and her intentions. But
this story reminds me so much of the typical love story on the big
screen where two lovers fall in love, but when they look back, they
remember the feeling of being in love, rather than who they were in
love with. That is the way romance writers often portray it. I
wonder if there are other ways of storying that experience?”
• “It sounds to me like a romance that becomes a tragedy but
I’d like to play with the gender politics that I hear, and clearly,
here I am reading into and not out of the text. But what would the
ex-husband’s story sound like? Would he simply say, ”I found
someone else.” Why is it only acceptable for the woman to tell the
story of being abandoned, bereft and betrayed? Why couldn’t there
be a story of a woman who falls out of love and it’s a comedy, not a
tragedy? Could a woman also say, ”I got bored,” or “He left”, and
that be a credible account?
• “What struck me was that though I also hear a classic
romantic tragedy, there is this wry humor that keeps erupting in the
text and it draws me more into the character because I want to know
what it is inside her that allows her to smile through the tears.
It makes me wonder if this is a different story or something within
it that wants to subvert a purely tragic telling. If the story ends
with her weeding, what is she getting ready to plant?”
Sandy as teller receives these
stage by stage responses to her story couched in formula similar to
the above, but differing according to each of the panelist’s
opinions since consensus is not the aim. She hears echoed back a
diverse panel of descriptions of what her story may or may not have
been about. One story becomes many stories. We invite the teller
to monitor her own inner listening processes as she hears the
feedback and to share some of this at the check-in periods between
When she feels inside herself an
inner confirmation about something that she has heard, it is not
simply a case of that being right, but rather, that “this is how the
story sounds right to me. This is how I hear the story.” This
becomes an important clue to revealing the story through which she
hears the story she tells.
When the teller notices inner
disturbance, that some comments feel way off or challenging, that is
equally useful to note as the clue that this is “not how I hear the
story. This is not the story of my listening.” Yet, it may be the
story of my listeners. It may help explain how they hear my story
and thus, how people react to me when I tell it, or when I construct
my persona through stories like it.
In Sandy’s case, she might realize,
as many clients do, that her pain is cast in the form of a tragedy.
“Sandy” plays the character role of the innocent and betrayed
victim. Such a narrative frame means she is being invited to attend
only to the pain and injustice of the experience. Tragedy will not
afford much attention to any agency of the character and her
resilience or courage, her determination or her rage and her sense
of humor. Sandy might decide that she wants to hear these other
parts of her experience speak as well. If she does, she comes back
to Narrative Room a week later and experiments with another story
that will give her access to the comedy and the irony that the
victim/divorce /betrayed woman story has edited out. She may even
discover room for a new romantic quest.
With repeated sessions of the
Listening Team process, a person comes to see that her story was not
simply her experience but the story that dictated how she was going
to listen to her life. She now has the power to determine that her
life is a lot more than tragedy. One story may colonize the space in
which we listen to ourselves, but no one story can ever fully do
justice to life’s infinity of experience.
We have conducted Listening Teams
for three years and the feedback has been consistently positive.
Participants have told us that they experience “story ejection,”
that the heaviness of a trouble story suddenly becomes lighter.
Others testify to its therapeutic effect, without it feeling like
therapy. One client described it as a process where “his voice was
recognized and honored like no other experience.”
Listening to a story in a way not
unlike the literary appreciation of a text reveals possibilities
that a teller never suspects are in her story. It achieves this by
demonstrating that meaning is never solely determined by the
intention of the teller, nor by the interpretative frame of the
listener. Rather, meaning is always a negotiation between the
teller, her listeners, and how she listens to others listening to
her story as a text.
Some Practical Implications
This work places us within an
alternate story of change. It suggests that change happens not only
by changing a story, but by changing the story that is shaping the
It suggests that the stories from
the great classics of myth and religion work because they subvert or
break open, even if only for an instant, our usual window on the
world. A great story e.g., Shakespeare or the Gospels, doesn’t
change the world, but it changes how we habitually take the world
Some Questions for Reflection
When next you hear yourself telling a story,
you might ask yourself-
• How is it also the shape of my listening?
• How is it cueing my listeners to listen to their
• How is it shaping my listening to other stories?
• What listening conspiracy am I participating in?
What kinds of stories do I like to use with people?
• Does that give me an insight into the story that shapes my
• Do I notice how, over time, the sorts of stories I use or
are interested in have changed?
• What does that say about the story evolution going on in how
I listen to the stories of my world?
This paper was written to explore a
new story about “Storytelling -Story as the shape of our listening”
to counter-balance our more traditional emphasis on ‘story as
telling.’ It does not pretend to offer this as incontrovertible fact
but it comes out of our reflections on our Listening Team practices.
It is written in the hope of contributing to a re-imagining of the
Our story about “storytelling” is
like any other story that we tell. To stay alive, it must keep
being enriched and broken open to the crisis of newness and growth.
If “story as telling” is our frozen story, the only story we have to
attend to our own processes, then perhaps we need a thawing out. We
need a story about storytelling that does greater justice to the
silent but powerful role we are called upon to play in holding up
the reality of others, as listeners. ”They have ears to hear but
they cannot hear” is the Gospel accusation that still echoes through
time, inviting us as storytellers to listen to the story of our
Please only use this
article with permission.
CENTER FOR NARRATIVE STUDIES
“Shaping the stories that are