Stealth Eco-Telling

By Fran Stallings, Sharing the Fire 2016 Workshop Presenter

Stallings“If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they will kill you.”
— Oscar Wilde, The Nightingale and the Rose

Once upon a time, O Best Beloved, in the palmy days after the first Earth Day (4/22/70), and during the birth of the storytelling revival, school and family audiences welcomed stories about Ecology. We were going to save the whales by recycling everything and picking up litter. Even tellers who had not trained as naturalists were collecting stories about endangered species, erosion, the water cycle. Green was in.

Storytellers who love working with students have seen many changes since then. The No Child Left Behind Act and budget cuts have crowded storytellers out of school work. Environmental organizations may still welcome a volunteer teller, but our eco stories would be preached to the choir. Thank goodness there are other venues for storytelling, but they may not be interested in hearing about ecology. If we still care, what can we do? Because the situation is clearly direr than it was in 1970.

Climate change is not just an “inconvenient truth,” it is very bad news. Can we storytellers tell this story, sound the alarm, change viewpoints, inspire action–without getting “killed”?

That’s where Stealth Eco-telling comes in.

Social psychologists study how we make decisions, change our minds, or change our behaviors. They find that arguments rarely sway people, no matter how good the facts are. We ignore threats that are too uncomfortable. But STORIES stick. Stories make people laugh–and connect us to the teller. Stories invite us to identify with the good guy, and show us how to go and do likewise.

We don’t have to tell stories about endangered species or melting glaciers to get people thinking about unanticipated consequences: Nasruddin Hodja and Coyote had plenty of those. Childhood misadventures in a vacant lot can remind people that everything is connected. When King Midas goes hungry to a hard gold bed, we can laugh at his greed–and start wondering about our own possessions.

I propose that we can Do Something Helpful by telling stories that don’t have to be “about” nature or animals or water cycles or recycling…. but do show the consequences of human decisions. I propose that many stories we already tell, including personal stories and traditional folktales, contain basic environmental principles that we can learn to recognize and strengthen, so that our audiences may see connections in their lives and be open to changing their behavior–without hitting them over the head with a “green” stick. That’s what I call Stealth Eco-telling.

Want to learn how to be a stealth eco-storyteller? On Saturday, April 2 at Sharing the Fire 2016, Fran Stallings will be presenting her workshop, Stealth Eco-Telling: Putting Your Repertory Where Your Heart Is.

Want to meet fellow ecotellers.  Join the Ecotellers Lunch at STF on Saturday 12:00pm – 1:30pm.  Pick up lunch from the food court and come talk shop with others who share your
interest in environmental storytelling and perhaps help plan a weekend retreat.

Learn more about Sharing the Fire and register today!

Learn more about Fran at

Have eco-storytelling tips you’d like to share? Leave a comment.


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