The First Annual Story Field Conference

Who is a "Storyteller"?

-- and why such a Conference for them?

by Tom Atlee


The purpose of this conference is to help the people who tell or shape the society's stories to take more responsibility -- if they so choose -- for their role in how things unfold (evolve) over the next critical decades and centuries. This category of "storyteller" includes but is not limited to those who self-identify as "storytellers".

Stories -- and the larger story fields or cultural narratives they all add up to -- profoundly shape how people think, feel, and behave, and what they believe is possible, worthwhile, and admirable. I believe that the Story we are all living out in industrial society will, if it continues, destroy the world in some very real ways beyond the ways it is already destroying the world. A shift in Story could profoundly change that, depending on the quality of the Story and who and how many believe it, and live into it.

Who is a Storyteller?

I am very generic in my sense of who is a storyteller. A PR spin-meister or metaphor designer (like George Lakoff) is a storyteller, as are the ad men and politicians who sell their wares. A cosmologist, theologian, or anthropologist is a storyteller. Historians and futurists and scenario-workers and sociologists are storytellers. Poets and dancers are storytellers. Even the celebrity whose life is in the limelite as a role model is a storyteller. These less-acknowledged forms of storytelling are in addition to the more obvious and acknowledged storytellers -- the novelists and short story writers, the playwrights, the screenplay writers and movie directors, the journalists and magazine editors and "creative nonfiction" writers -- not to mention the tellers of stories who specialize in oral storytelling, some to circles of children in libraries or circles of villagers around a campfire, others to millions of adults on radio shows like Prairie Home Companion. I also include the people who enable others to tell their stories -- the people who create online spaces like MySpace or SecondLife, or who do journaling or life purpose workshops, or who compose World Cafe or Appreciative Inquiry questions, or who professionally listen, like therapists or Dynamic Facilitators. The list goes on and on.

My definition of storyteller, for the purposes of the conference, is heavily influenced by who I believe might have an impact on society's meta-story. With this in mind, I might especially include:

And so on...

My (barely) Hidden Agenda

I have an agenda: The evolution of societies -- especially the US -- into forms that are more sustainable, just, joyful, and healthily self-evolving.

I think that most people have no idea how to do that, really, no idea of what's involved or what directions to go in, or how to BE in a way that could influence that. I think that stories could change all of that.

I'm not interested in everyone telling the same story. I'm interested in enhancing society's capacity to develop and tell itself stories it can use to change itself into something that's a delight to itself and the world.

And somehow I believe that there are hundreds of storytellers -- in the generic sense above -- who would love to play a role in that, according to their individual passion and skill, but who lack the knowledge, stimulation, connections, and support to do it.

I believe that if dozens or hundreds of them are brought together with dozens or hundreds of people who have the knowledge of what would make a healthy society and how to create it, and people who have resources (money, organizing skill, connections, etc.) to help create it -- and they gathered in open space / world cafe / dynamic facilitation for 4-7 days so they could find each other and co-create together around shared and emergent passions -- that something truly remarkable would happen, something that could have a real effect on the sense of possibility in this society, and engage people in making the needed changes in, among and around them, with tremendous meaning and joy.

I further believe that if this were done every year and/or in many places and/or in many storytelling professions and caucuses, that its effect would become profound, sustained and worldchanging. Ultimately, and most importantly, it would become an intrinsic part of the society we want, a collective cultural capacity for more meaningful, delightful, powerful self-organization.

I see this as the story manifestation of co-intelligence -- tapping the wisdom of the whole on behalf of the whole... through story.


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This conference is being organized with support from the Kellogg Foundation and the Co-Intelligence Institute.
Illustration credit: Dana Lynne Andersen, in
From Lava to Life: the Universe Tells our Earth Story by Jennifer Morgan -- Courtesy of Dawn Publications