Listen Up and Read On: The Stories We Share

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Scholars, common folk, sages and fools all through the ages continue to prove that we are a storytelling species. We are a species that, regardless of seasons or reasons, regales those around us dozens of times a day with an abundance of lessons, tales, myths, fables, fiction, memories, mysteries, narratives, anecdotes, advertisements, articles and all other types of stories. But are we also good story listeners? We here at Reach And Teach sometimes feel that as a species we can too often be far greater storytellers or ‘story givers' than we are as story receivers.

One of the key themes that guides us as an organization is that the shortest distance between two people is a story. And, the difference between an enemy and a friend is a story. When arguing about a particular social issue, instead of sharing an opinion, we are more likely to say "Let me tell you a story about my experience, my story, because that story shapes how I feel about this issue."

What is a story? A story, for the purposes of this blog and from our friends at Webster's Dictionary, is simply any account of imaginary or real incidents or events or a statement regarding the facts pertinent to a situation in question including narratives and anecdotes. Thus stories are basically anything we tell or write to ourselves or others through written, nonverbal or verbal language. All a story really needs is an observer (listener or reader), content (the story), a storyteller (writer or performer or storyteller), a willingness to share, and attention (hopefully) given on both sides to the story being portrayed.

The historical, physical, social and most of the other parts of the scientific record give credence to the need for a listening and attention revival. New and recent books and articles galore argue about the role of attention merchants and advertisers, the role of attention on memory, and the deterioration of communication attention spans into tweets, short profile updates, soundbites and snapchats. The impact of social media on listening and reading attention spans is clearly a hot item in social science and psychology today. Better storytelling and better listening can be remedies to attention spans run amok.

Squirrel. (Pop culture reference to being suddenly distracted.)

According to Jonathan Gottschall in his book The Storytelling Animal, stories help us navigate life's persistent problems, like any other simulator prepares you for potential dangers. Even as we are the master shapers of stories, we ourselves as human beings are changed and forced to adapt by the stories we hear, observe and convey. So, our listening to stories and allowing ourselves to be changed through our listening are vital ways to connect with and develop compassion for and empathy with others.

This bears repeating... we ourselves as human beings are changed and forced to adapt by the stories we hear, observe and convey, giving us compassion for and empathy with others.

Recently the need for listening skills was most clearly seen in the election hysteria and our nation's seemingly polarized responses. Media reports and pundit soundbites abounded on both sides about those who were labeled as "the other" being the epitome of evil and embodying everything that's wrong with America. Now, regardless of which side you are or were on, Bernie or Bust, I'm With Her, or wanting to Make America Great Again, chances are you had a visceral reaction to all the us versus them memes with which you were being bombarded, resulting in total burnout from the whole political mess.

Our take away from the onslaught of the overwhelmingly destructive babble, was stories matter now more than ever. Not tweets, headlines, bumper stickers, slogans on hats or banners... stories. Our need to listen to each other's stories, histories, herstories, viewpoints and observations of the world has never been more vital to us as individuals, as neighbors, as citizens and as human beings. We need to understand the stories we hear, read, observe, and experience just as much as we need to be understood by others. But of course, that takes time and we, the people, in order to form a more perfect union, need to take the time to speak up, listen up, and read on. One project that is working on improve our civil conversations is the Civil Conversations Project "a resource for healing our fractured civic spaces."

As the saying goes, listening is an act of love. Yet contrary to what would be healthy communication, instead of actively listening and thoughtfully reflecting... so often we immediately attach ourselves to the content and context of what the other is communicating. This is not healthy as it is an entanglement with the words being conveyed. If we allow ourselves the perspective of a listener and untangle the attachment to what is being said or written then we allow time and space for more complete understandings and discernments of the messages being shared.

Projects like StoryCorps, Stanford Storytelling Project and many others including podcasts of "This American Life" are all about listening. They are about listening to all the stories in our lives as an active process of love.

After active listening is done, then and only then is it time for us to tell our own stories with care.

There are many types of stories we share, but to us they all fit into three loose categories, what if, what is, and what was.

What if are the fictional narratives. What is are observational or experiential stories based in the here and now, there and now, or either here or there and wow! What was are the histories and herstories of our past. At Reach and Teach we are all for positive storytelling and empowerment even with the inherent struggles, and strife, but negative storytelling needs to be deconstructed.

The negative storytelling we experience often harms everyone involved, no matter how justified the speaker or writer is in the opinion, prose, poetry, observation or story being shared. Reframing or redirecting stories has actually been and is continually being scientifically proven to be an effective way in deconstructing and rebuilding of our narratives.

Redirect by Timothy D. Wilson (a book new to our store) gives plenty of evidence to the science of changing stories leading to changes in lives. So you don't have to take our word for it. Ask Tony Robbins and countless other story changing self help gurus.

At Reach and Teach we are always open to the ideas and stories of all creatures, regardless of the storyteller's experience, even stories from creatures bigger than Drew or smaller than Holly! Now more than ever, we encourage everyone especially you to share all of your stories with each other throughout our communities both local and national. Our world needs your story!  To share your story or your experiences with stories with Reach and Teach electronically, or if you want your story to be recorded for any reason email Drew at

To practice on and play with our listening skills we have some events coming up.

A Wolf at the Gate - Monday December 5th at 4pm

Wolf at the Gate

Reach And Teach is thrilled to have Mark Van Steenwyk, the author of A Wolf at the Gate, joining us on Monday December 5th at 4:00pm for a dramatic (in costume) reading of the story. The gathering will be great for all ages and snacks and beverages will be provided.

Join us Monday December 5th at 4pm at 144 W. 25th Avenue in San Mateo! FREE.

About the Book:

The Blood Wolf prowls near the village of Stonebriar at night. She devours chickens and goats and cows and cats. Some say children are missing. But this murderous wolf isn't the villain of our story, she's the hero!

The Blood Wolf hates humankind for destroying the forest, but an encounter with a beggar teaches her a better way to confront injustice. How will she react when those she loves are

This imaginative retelling of the legend of Saint Francis and the Wolf explores what it means to be a peacemaker in the midst of violence and how to restore a healthy relationship with creation.

Settle in and hear a tale of tooth and sword, of beggars and lords, of outlaws and wild beasts. It is a story of second chances and the power of love. This is the story of A Wolf at the Gate.

Crossing Lines in San Mateo - Sharing Stories, Creating Community
January 29th 2017 2:30pm to 5pm
Martin Luther King Center - 725 Monte Diablo Avenue - San Mateo

Click here for details

Reach And Teach friends Len and Libby Traubman will be facilitating an inspiring, hands-on community workshop for respectful communication across all lines beginning with a new quality of listening to one another - to everyone.

This practical afternoon to create a San Mateo culture of listening and inclusion offers modern tools of communication for your home, school, business, neighborhood, and global community.

Facilitators Libby and Len Traubman co-founded the 24-year-old Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue of San Mateo featured on CNN, NPR, MSNBC, and Voice of America. They co-produced five films including DIALOGUE AT WASHINGTON HIGH, PEACEMAKERS: Palestinians & Jews Together at Camp, and DIALOGUE IN NIGERIA: Muslims &
Christians Creating Their Future. They have guided hundreds of dependably successful dialogues on high school and university campuses, and in neighborhoods across America and overseas.

Seating is limited and RSVP is required. Click here to view a flyer with contact info.

California Writers Club - Third Wednesday of Each Month 7:30pm

Share your stories and listen to other new stories with us at the California Writer's club on the third wednesday of each month (January 18th) at 7:30 pm at Reach and Teach. Click here to visit the club's web site for more info and to sign up to share your story!

Online Resources:

Here are a few resources we'd like to share.


Finally - Two Reach And Teach Products to Share

Tell Tale

Discover the art of storytelling with Tell Tale. Be guided through your own unique tale with cards illustrated with a variety of characters, settings, objects and emotions. If a picture is worth a thousand words, imagine the possibilities with 120 inspiring images! Create your own storyboard or improvise a tale together; there are four ways to play! In this creative storytelling game, everybody is a winner. 

Click here to order a copy or come into our shop and play first! 

Once Upon A Time

We LOVE this game! We were introduced to it by wonderful friends one evening around the dinner table and had hours of fun playing. We're huge believers in storytelling being one of the keys to peacemaking. Our friends Len and Libby Traubman like to say that the shortest distance between two people is a story, and the difference between an enemy and a friend is a story. The art of storytelling, whether telling true stories based on our experiences or making up stories of worlds we've never seen, is very important and games like this help keep it going. We HIGHLY recommend this wonderful game!  

Once Upon a Time is the award-winning storytelling card game that encourages creativity and collaborative play. One player is the Storyteller, and begins telling a story using the fairytale elements on her Story cards, guiding the plot toward her Ending Card. The other players use their own cards to interrupt her and become the new Storyteller. The winner is the first player to use all her Story Cards and play her Ending Card. The object of the game, though, isn't just to win, but to have fun telling a story together.  

Click here to buy the game or come into out shop and play!! 


Thanks to Creative Commons for some of the images in this post!  

Green America approved