Once upon a story time


I read an exceptionally powerful story this week that I’d like to recommend.

It’s only a short story, about 4000 words, (that’s 8 pages in Arial 10). It’s deeply sad and still magically beautiful. It’s about community and identity, bullying and loneliness but mostly it’s about personal transformation. You probably know it, at least know of it, because it’s been retold again and again since it was first published in 1843. It’s the story of The Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Andersen.

I’d not heard or read it in full since I was very young and reading it again now, I was reminded of the ability of a good story to do 4 extraordinary things:

  1. To explain what is right without preaching.
  2. To share complex feelings without elaborate vocabulary.
  3. To highlight and debate difficult subjects without getting too personally involved.
  4. To allow us to re-live memories and dream dreams in the company of those who were never there and might not be coming with us.

I love stories, and there are so many of them to help us navigate life. Sometimes the moral of a story is subtle and deep, sometimes a bit lighter and more direct. Although I personally love the deep and meaningful ones, this one is always on the tip of my tongue.

(Caution: swear warning!!!)

The Lesson of a Bird

Once upon a time, there was a nonconforming sparrow who decided not to fly south for the winter. However, soon the weather turned so cold that he reluctantly started southward. In a short time, ice began to form on his wings and he fell to earth in a barnyard, almost frozen. A cow passed by and crapped on the little sparrow. The sparrow thought it was the end. But then the manure warmed him and defrosted his wings. Warm and happy, able to breathe, he started to sing. Just then a large cat came by and hearing the chirping, investigated the sounds. The cat cleared away the manure, found the chirping sparrow and promptly ate him.

Now, it may seem that there are no lessons here, but there are. In fact, there are three:

1. Everyone who shits on you is not necessarily your enemy.
2. Everyone who gets you out of shit is not necessarily your friend.
3. If you’re warm and happy in a pile of shit, keep your mouth shut.

Source (I’m told but I’m not 100% sure): “The Advantage in Your Disadvantage,” from The Healing Power of Humor, by Allen Klein

It may have 3 lessons but I’ve always loves it for the 2 lessons that aren’t highlighted.

  1. Make sure that wanting to be different is about being yourself without ‘cutting off your nose to spite your face’ or just hurting yourself if you didn’t need that image (great analogy  though- love that!)
  2. It’s good to question and challenge things, but sometimes things work for a reason, and if you can’t see a better way, then fly south until you do.

So how can we use stories like this to build our People Voodoo muscle?

Option 1 – Read and reflect

When you next read a story, look out for the less overt lessons and messages.

  • How do you react to this story?
  • What does your reaction tell you about yourself and your view of the world?
  • How does that view of yourself and the world affect your behaviour?

Option 2 – Listen and learn

Ask someone who has known you since your were much much younger to tell you a story about when you were small and listen to how they tell it.

  • What does their description tell you about their beliefs and their opinion of the world?
  • What does it tell you about how they feel about you?
  • What does this tell you about yourself that you didn’t know or have forgotten?

These stories can be very revealing and great for some bonding time too.

I rarely make a  request of you but this week I’d love to get some more stories to add to my collection so please share if you have a favourite.



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