We live in a story-shaped world and choose all the time which ones to immerse ourselves in and take to heart. The stories we hear from family and friends are supplemented by those in books, films, plays, poems, and even songs. All tell us something about ourselves and the world in which we live. Without stories we would not be able to navigate into the future and we would have no way to listen to the past. Stories give us meaning, purpose, and gratitude for what we have. They open our eyes to wonder and our hearts to the joys of being alive.

On the Global Spirit episode "Stories to Remember," host Phil Cousineau explores the place and importance of stories of two people who have made storytelling the central focus of their lives and work. Kay Olan is a renowned storyteller from the Mohawk-Wolf Clan of the Mohawk nation in upstate New York. Orland Bishop is the founder of Shade Tree Multi-Cultural Foundation which integrates the metaphysics of the African wisdom traditions and the power of storytelling with his mentoring of youth in the ghetto of South Central, Los Angeles, where a fragile peace has been established between the gangs, the Crips and the Bloods.

Writer and entertainer Garrison Keillor has observed: "You get older, and you realize there are no answers, just stories. And how we love them." Olan and Bishop would agree. They both see stories as good medicine which connects people with one another, keeps past traditions alive, provides a healing balm to those who need it, deepens our appreciation of the natural world and of animals, and provides inspiration that can be passed on to the next generations.

In addition to her commentary on the value of stories in native communities, Olan is seen on a video clip visiting with storytellers from California's Ohlone tribe. After exchanging gifts, they pay tribute to the power of stories to preserve and illuminate tribal history. To Cousineau and Bishop she explains the narrative embedded in a wampum belt.

Bishop is shown counseling a young man in South Central Los Angeles who has been shot ten times. Now a community organizer, he tells his story to some visitors from Europe, standing on the spot where one of his friends was shot dead during the gang wars. Bishop explains how the African Zulu Sawubona greeting "We see you" gives rise to stories, becoming part of a social agreement to bring more of ourselves into life.

Phil Cousineau closes with a well-known quotation from the poet Muriel Rukeyser: "The universe is made of stories, not atoms."

To Continue This Journey:

  • What was your favorite story when you were a child? How did it contribute to your personal development?
  • What stories have given you an appreciation of your religion, your ethnic identity, and the place where you reside.
  • Bishop explains how the literary classic The Illiad with its themes of destiny and searching has been a resource for his mentoring work with ghetto youth. What other stories have you or could you use with young people?
  • Discuss Olan's contention that whenever we say or do something, we need to reflect on how it will impact future generations.