All throughout human history, people have passed down stories to educate, entertain, comfort, and deepen understanding.
We tell our stories in varied and complex ways. Some of us write, others share anecdotes with children, and some add visuals and music through film. All cultures have mythical, symbolic stories that carry meaning. Sometimes we want to share stories with large populations, and other times we simply hope to convey a message to a friend.
The Baha’i teachings say that even spiritual guidance has historically been delivered in the form of stories, as evidenced by the way Christ taught: “Whatsoever proceeded from the tongue of the Son was revealed in parables …” – Baha’u’llah, The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, p. 62.
If we don’t make time to hear stories, learn from them and try to implement what we learn from them, we run the risk of repeating the problems from the past. You may be able to think of a case where history repeats itself today. Why does this happen? Can we trace it back to something wrong with our storytelling?
Maybe part of the reason history repeats itself has to do with not always telling the real stories.
Our history books, for example, are filled with half-truths and wide gaps that hide what really happened in the lives of generations before ours. Even in our fiction, we paint dishonest pictures about human nature by only representing one side of the story. For example, if mainstream music and film disproportionately represent hyper-sexual and unemotional relationships over meaningful, loving relationships, those stories can change our perception of reality. Huge numbers of people interact with each other with love, interconnected well-being, and cooperation – but we don’t see this reflected in the content we consume.
Upon realizing the power that stories have, our sense of responsibility to use this power constructively can grow. The stories that we choose to pay attention to, or even support financially, should make a difference. For example, when we only consume the stories told in our music which highlight our animalistic nature, we further contribute to a culture that suppresses the development of love, justice, and peace. When we choose to consume stories that reflect our higher nature, we help create an environment that allows more balanced and empowering stories to come to the forefront.
We can also contribute to creating an environment where underrepresented stories flourish by ensuring that younger generations have the ability to express themselves accurately. We can provide young people access to platforms and support the development of their power of expression, and in that way allow voices that have been strategically barred from widespread media to be freed.
Baha’is strive to empower young people to better express themselves through a variety of activities, such as the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program, but beyond this program we each have the ability to support those around us. We can learn to listen lovingly to one another’s stories, ask genuine, curious questions, and stay open-minded and fair.
The Baha’i writings describe how crucial listening is to achieve true and productive conversation:
… True consultation is spiritual conference in the attitude and atmosphere of love. Members must love each other in the spirit of fellowship in order that good results may be forthcoming. Love and fellowship are the foundation. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 72-73.
As we create relationships with one another founded on love, we allow new stories to be told that have been kept in the margins, we open the space for new faces to inspire us in our journey, and we allow for accurate and honest depictions of who we are as a collective to be revealed.