Anecdote, by the way, is one of my favorite bookmarked sites for thoughts on storytelling in the workplace, narrative, communities of practice and collaborative learning and working.
We could expand the subject of the question to 'Who are we?' and 'Why are we here?' in order to reveal a group's character, identity and motivation. The 'we' could be any dense network such as a community, family, workgroup, team, etc. Here's a possible example: My wife and I spent some time in Madang, Papua New Guinea and during our time there someone uncovered an old WWII road grader. The group pulled it out, cleaned it up and got it working again. It was the sort pulled by a tractor. Our leader stated that the steel used for this grader was made by Bethlehem Steel. Wow, a 50 year old grader left sitting in the jungle of PNG, made by Bethlehem Steel still worked! Must've been good steel. I identified with this story immediately. I never worked at Bethlehem Steel, but my dad did and so did most of my uncles and some of my aunts. On top of that, my dad was stationed briefly in PNG during WWII.
So, the group in this story could be my family, people from Bethlehem, PA and /or former Bethlehem Steel employees. There is a certain amount of pride being connected with Bethlehem and the Steel. Even though the Steel folded, it has retained a certain legacy.
Other possible group stories could include origin stories. My uncle likes to tell us stories of the Siegfried clan, their origins in Germany and settlement in eastern Pennsylvania.
Another example of 'who we are?' could be how organizations came into being. I really enjoyed hearing stories from how our organization started as a 'skunkworks' and what the founders had in mind. Those stories gave me a sense of history and identity.
A few days after reading the Anecdote post, I attended a local storytelling guild. Since many of us were new to the guild, the long-term members of the guild told their signature stories. The leader prompted each by requesting them to tell 'their' stories'. Each told their story fabulously. What an example of storytelling for us newbies! In other words, each of the tellers had adopted a story told originally by somebody else, but after numerous performances within this guild, the tellers had become closely associated with their story until it had become their ‘signature’ story. I would like to ask each teller what made them choose the story that they told as their signature story. What was it about the story that inspired them to identify with it?
I could be talking about two or more different things, personal experience stories that reflect character and motivation and stories that the teller identifies with that reflects on who they are and what they value.
I was on the point of explaining to the storytelling guild why my wife and I told the story we selected from Vanuatu, as it is a bit odd to American ears; when a veteran storyteller commented that the stories we (re)tell reflect who we are. The reason we told the story of the birds and the turtle was that it was so different culturally from stories we knew and grew up with.
The story we told involves a group of birds from Vanuatu getting together and deciding to make a vegetable garden. The biggest bird decides to take the lead and organize the bush-clearing to prepare the garden. As a result of their hard work, all were thirsty. So, the biggest bird decides to fetch some water from a pool guarded by a turtle. The turtle runs off the big bird, and thereupon a small fantail takes up the cause. This bird not only succeeds in getting the water, but bludgeons the turtle with a stick. In the end the fantail is made the group's leader and the narrator adds 'this is why you see the fantail always among a group of birds looking out for danger.'
I'm sure there is some lesson to learn in this story as it is included in an early reader series for Vanuatu public schools. The moral of the story could have something to do with the biggest is not always successful or it may be a story to explain why fantails behave as they do. To find out, we'd have to ask an insider, someone belonging to the group from which the story came.
Then, Sunday, we heard a sermon based on the Joseph story from Genesis. The Joseph story takes up considerable space in the Genesis account. It's a great story. Here we have Joseph, the youngest of a group of brothers who has a dream in which he foresees his other brothers bowing to him. Joseph already is much loved by his father, making his brothers jealous of him. Joseph’s dream and interpretation add to the tension. As a result, Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery and he ends up in Egypt. There he serves a rich man and is wrongly accused by the man’s wife. He is thrown in a dungeon and is miraculously given a prominent position when he is able to correctly interpret the pharaoh’s dream. Joseph’s brothers eventually meet up with him because of famine in their land after which Joseph schemes to reunite the whole family. So after all the years, the trials and the successes Joseph experiences in Egypt, he reveals what he thinks is the purpose of his life. Maybe Joseph did not have the full answer as to 'why he was here?' until close to the end of the story.
When I tell stories dealing with language development and training I feel invigorated. At this point in my life, starting a different kind of work in language development, I find myself telling different stories, or looking at stories of past experiences from a different angle. I imagine that after some experience working in this new position, I'll have another set of personal and communal stories to share. I'm looking forward to collecting this new set of stories and hope that they will energize us.