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The Power of Transformational Storytelling

We are all multi-dimensional. We are the sum of our personal and professional circles and experiences, our socialisation, upbringing, demographics, inherent nature and nurture.

We bring this multi-platform perspective and experience to everything we do, for better or for worse. For instance on the downside trust issues experienced in a our childhood, will likely manifest in our professional attitudes. Or, poor leadership in early business experiences, may influence the way we develop as leaders as we grow through our career. It works both ways of course, a collaborative and close-knit family unit is likely to prepare us to be a team player. Or, a significant teacher in school could represent a leadership model that we strive to emulate.

The great advantage of understanding that we are the sum of many of our parts is coming to the realisation that we can learn things and we can unlearn things. There are very few things that can't be – at very least – adjusted, tweaked or calibrated, to aid us to become the best possible version of ourselves.

How do we do this? There is a very significant self-help book industry – a treasure chest of teachings, advice, expertise, consultants and professionals. I use these all the time. There is something comforting about learning from others and the knowledge that they share. In many ways, it take us back to our childhood where we were nurtured into education by family, teachers and other significant role models. There was an inherent understanding that we as children have growing to do, and didacticism and role-modeling is the way to help us do it. Only now – when we are all grown-up – the onus is upon us to identify and acknowledge our own deficits, and work to fill in the gaps in whatever way we see fit. Self-help books are a definite solution.

There is another way of course – literary fiction can also serve to bridge the gap and to lead to personal growth and transformation. How many times have you read a work of fiction and thought to yourself: it is as if the author was writing about me! Or, I knew exactly what the character was going through – I have been there! It doesn't stop at individual characters of course, most often entire plots mirror universal issues. I am not just talking about life events marriage, divorce, childbirth, sickness, death, I am also talking about issues that we would like to resolve in ourselves lack of confidence, lack of trust, general lethargy, feelings of disconnectedness or not belonging to mention but a few. Just like these issues will be resolved in some way or other in the storyline of literary fiction, so will we either consciously – or sub-consciously – be able to apply these learning to similar situations that we encounter in our own lives. I am no medical doctor, but I have personally 'prescribed' the following books to different people for different reason, (to mention but a few):

Judy Blume's "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret." to several teenagers in my life.

Radclyffe Hall's "The Well of the Loneliness" to someone exploring her identity.

Wally Lamb's "I Know This Much is True" to friends learning to cope with a family member with mental illness.

Richard Bach's "Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah" to several people who are just wondering what it's all about...

Which books have you 'prescribed' to the people in your life?

In her article "Self-Help Fiction" in Tin House magazine, the author Amy Silverberg (@AmySilverberg on Twitter), says: "Surely there’s a fictional equivalent for every possible human problem. And then there is the cost benefit - Reading fiction is much cheaper than therapy or Prozac, and definitely more enjoyable. If only all the books could fit inside the medicine cabinet." I love this quote. It makes a lot of sense to me. Literary fiction opens up a world of possibility in terms of personal growth. The transformational power of fictional storytelling is almost limitless, and it goes there in a way that is not threatening, not overly didactic, and not judgemental. It presents itself with empathy, humanity and provides distance between you the reader –, and you the person who can see yourself and your challenges reflected in the pages.

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