What’s our Superpower?
You have probably noticed that this blog has begun with a strange question! As human beings, what is our superpower? Is it our intelligence? Perhaps, but there are plenty of other clever creatures out there, from whales and octopi to parrots and chimps.
As the editor of Storytime, I spend a lot of time thinking about stories. In fact, I have a theory that is telling stories is actually what makes humans special. That might sound a bit absurd, because other creatures can communicate too. However, as far as we know, humans are the only creatures that can tell long and elaborate tales – which are a very effective way of passing along knowledge and wisdom.
What better way is there to make this point than by telling a story?
A member of my family is an anthropologist who works for a global health organisation. His job is to teach people all over the world better health practices. One of his projects was to teach good hand-washing techniques (and this was well before COVID-19 broke out!)
One day he carefully and logically explained how to wash your hands to a class of kids. They understood what he was saying, nodded along politely. However, when he came back a week later, they still weren’t washing their hands in the way he had told them.
At first he felt frustrated, but then he had a think. He might have given the kids the facts, but had he really connected with them?
The next time he spoke to the kids, he told them a story about the Porcupine, and how he stopped all of the other animals in the forest from getting sick by showing them how to clean their paws. This story made the kids’ faces light up, and from that day on they washed their hands very well indeed.
Why had his story worked so well, when just logically stating facts had failed? That is because stories work on more than one level. They contain information, but they also engage with our emotions so that we can relate to what is being said.
Here at Storytime, we love different stories from all over the world, and some of them are very old indeed. These stories have lasted because they and the lessons they teach resonate with us today. Think of the story of the Trojan Horse, from Storytime #49 – we all know that it is wise to be suspicions of strange gifts, but it is more compelling when part of a stirring tale.
We might all know that it is not a good thing to give in to worries over something that might never happen – but the characters in the story of Henny Penny (Storytime #19) bring it to life and make us laugh along.
Or consider the message of The Midas Touch, from Storytime #8. We may understand that getting what we want might have unwelcome consequences, but the story makes it much more immediate and relatable. We suddenly understand WHY it might be so!
As humans, telling stories helps us to pass on our knowledge and wisdom – and bonds us as people. Why not take the time to tell your story to someone and then listen as they tell you theirs? It might be a child who wants to tell you about their day at the park, or a grandparent reminiscing about times past. Using our superpower can be a wonderful thing!