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Story Telling

January 4, 2021
Harold Goodwin
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We need to take the stories we tell seriously, they embody power.

We need to think about the stories we tell in the itineraries and places we recommend and market. We need to have more diversity in the experiences and stories we tell. We need to take responsibility if travel is to broaden the mind rather than reinforce prejudices. Only through storytelling can we realise the ambition of Responsible Tourism to provide “more enjoyable experiences for tourists through more meaningful connections with local people, and a greater understanding of local cultural, social and environmental issues.”

It is through stories that we make sense of the world. We use stories to understand our lives and those of others. Anthropologists tell us that storytelling is fundamental to our existence as humans. Stories enable us to make sense of our world and to share our understanding with others. To control the narrative is to shape our understanding and consequently, our actions and behaviour. Narratives play an important part in politics shaping our understanding of why the world is the way it is, how it works and how it might be changed.

At the heart of Responsible Tourism are the values of respect and the aspiration to create meaningful connections. Respect does not require the denial of difference. A meaningful connection is best achieved through the exploration of difference, through converatiom, dialogues and debate. What does this have to do with travel and tourism?

In The Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain wrote : “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.” This may or may not have been an entirely original thought, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page” is attributed to St Augustine.

The idea that travel broadens the mind is widely assumed, it deserves to be questioned. Does it?

I think it is largely a matter of how one travels, engaging in conversation with the other or not, travelling with an open mind or not.

As Yuval Noah Harari the historian, philosopher and author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, and more recently of 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, a master storyteller seeking after truth in non-fiction. He writes of the tree of knowledge and in Chapter 2 of Sapiens of fiction not merely as a way of imagining things, telling stories, bu enabling us to do so collectively. The nationalist myths of modern states have ancient precursors in creation myths and the Dreamtime myths of Aboriginal Australians.

Through the stories that we tell ourselves and share with others, we reveal ourselves; these stories are at the heart of our diverse cultures. The stories we tell ourselves, and about our selves, are fundamental to our identity. Harari argues that our shared stories give us Sapiens a unique ability amongst species to cooperate flexibly in large numbers. Storytelling has been used for good and ill throughout history. As he writes "'We are the only mammals that can cooperate with numerous strangers because only we can invent fictional stories, spread them around, and convince millions of others to believe in them."

In 21 Lessons for the 21st Century he argues that fake news is older than Twitter and Facebook. Ssocial media and its echo chambers have mobilised support for Donald Trump and facilitated his rise to lead the USA, contributed to the triumph of Brexit and is effectively, and dangerously, spreading the anti-vaxxer message.

"For better or worse, fiction is among the most effective tools in humanity's toolkit. By bringing people together, religious creeds make large-scale human cooperation possible. They inspire people to build hospitals, schools and bridges in addition to armies and prisons. Adam and Eve never existed, but Chartres Cathedral is still beautiful. Much of the Bible may be fictional, but it can still bring joy to billions and encourage humans to be compassionate, courageous and creative."

As Soyer and Hogarth warned last month in Harvard Business Review we must be careful "Don’t Let a Good Story Sell You on a Bad Idea”. We need to take responsibility for the stories our itineraries and guides tell – lest we too risk selling “fake news”.

We know that the victors write history and that there are always competing stories. But fictions can last for centuries. The post-WW1 Spanish flu originated in America, Spain was neutral and without censorship and therefore got to "own" American flu.

JoAnna Haugen of Rooted Storytelling explains why storytelling is important as a way of dealing with facts. Storytelling is a powerful way to connect with others and to understand the other. JoAnna argues that storytelling is undervalued and underused in tourism. We talk about tourism as a force for good, but we communicate it poorly. We can use stories to connect with tourists and to help them to understand how they can make the world a better place. We need to set aside the jargon and tell stories about experiences that have meaning and make connections. Listen to what JoAnna has to say about understanding the consequences of climate change through a tourist guide's storytelling on a glacier in Iceland.

The Black Lives Matter movement has reminded us of slavery and the enduring power of racism, the aggression of daily encounters with it and the deep structural racism that shapes our societies. The anger justifiably felt by people of colour about the statues of the beneficiaries of slavery British cities has been heard. These statues are rightly seen as celebrations of the lives of men who profited from slavery. A reminder to so many of our fellow citizens of the pain inflicted on their ancestors. For me, those same statues tell a different story. They are a reminder that the wealth of Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Liverpool and London and the industrial revolution which founded Britain's wealth, was based on slavery. These same statues are a reminder of our engagement in the slave trade. When Britain abolished slavery in 1833 the slave owners were compensated. A loan of £20 million was raised around 40% of total government expenditure in 1833.  That loan was only finally paid off in the last decade. That story has not been widely told.

Some stories and experiences get pushed to one side, denied and omitted from the tourism offer. As Gai explains the "whitewashing" of history is an issue is contemporary America using Charleston as her example. Surely we should incorporate the truth and tell the whole story?

Mejdi Tours is “founded on the belief that tourism should be a vehicle for a more positive and interconnected world.” MEJDI  translates to both “honour” and “respect”, the business was established to  “change the face of tourism through a socially responsible business model that honours both clients and communities.”  Travellers engage with a diversity of views about the places they visit, multiple narratives.

Mejdi have pioneered dual narrative tours to, amongst other places, Israel and Palestine and Northern Ireland. Their two-guide model equips groups with two local guides, each representing unique cultural, religious, political, and ethnic narratives.

The Starfish  Story is often used to reassure people that they can make a difference  - Take a look on Google Search

The Story originated in Loren C Eiseley's The immense journey The original is quoted here 
The history of the story is on Wikipedia 

On storytelling and narrative 

Narrative is a simple thing, at bottom: chronology with meaning.”
— Jon Franklin, who won the inaugural Pulitzer Prizes in two journalism categories as a science writer with the Baltimore Evening Sun

“The story — from Rumplestiltskin to War and Peace — is one of the basic tools invented by the human mind for the purpose of understanding. There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.”

— Ursula Le Guin, American fantasy and science fiction author

Resources which may be useful to you 

Nieman Story Board

Thanet Writers 

The Best Readings, Ideas, and Solutions of 2020

Why Social Impact Storytelling Will Be 2021's Hottest Content Trend—and Could Even Help Save the Planet


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