lipman 2By Doug Lipman, Sharing the Fire 2016 Workshop Presenter

I believe that one factor in making a better future will be the reinforcement of certain values. I also believe that storytelling has a privileged place in the promotion of some key values.
In this post, I’ll give a peek at the strengths and limitations of storytelling as a tool for influencing values. I’ll also list my top eight “values of the future.”

The Rubber Duck Derby
My town, Marshfield, Massachusetts, has an annual “Rubber Duck Derby” to raise money for local charities. Each contestant pays to sponsor a numbered, floating rubber duck. The race happens on a local body of flowing water; the top three winners get cash prizes. What captured my attention, besides the sense of good-natured playfulness, are the rules:
a) You can’t pick up or even touch a duck;
b) You can make waves in the water to help your duck.
c) You can even blow on your duck, in the hope of changing its speed or direction.

As it happens, the “rules” of influencing people’s values are similar to those of the Duck Derby:
a) It’s impossible to externally redirect someone’s values.
b) A story about a value, however, can create a “wave” that may powerfully influence someone’s values.
c) Simply by telling stories at all, you can “blow on” people’s values, subtly reinforcing certain values and increasing the likelihood that your listener’s values will move in a particular direction.

Notice that storytelling is, in one sense, neutral with regard to values. You can tell a story that supports democracy, for example, but you can just as easily tell a story that supports the divine right of kings. In Duck Derby terms, waves can push in any direction.
But in another sense, storytelling is not a neutral medium at all. Some values are embedded in the very processes of developing, telling, and listening to stories. These are the “blow on the duck” values. They blow in particular directions, based on the nature of storytelling. Their effect may be barely perceptible at any one moment, but over time they can change the course of a whole fleet of ducks.

Eight Embedded Values
I have identified eight values (grouped into sets of four) that, I believe, are each:
a) Important for helping the society of the future serve our real needs even better than does our present society; and
b) Promoted by the very process of storytelling.
Here is the current version of my list of values:
Group A: The Primacy of Connection
• Value #1: The Power of Listening
• Value #2: A Predisposition Toward Compassion
• Value #3: The Importance of Relationships
• Value #4: The Efficacy of Openness
Group B: Respect for Our Amazing Minds
• Value #5: The Preciousness of Every Human Point of View
• Value #6: The Universality of Human Potential
• Value #7: The Whole Mind: Conceptual Thinking Plus Image Thinking
• Value #8: Emotion’s Role in Thinking

In my workshop at Sharing the Fire, I’ll describe each of these values, including why it will matter for our future, how it is embedded in the storytelling process, and some techniques for increasing its influence by directing people’s attention to it.

For now, I invite your comments:
• What ways have you found to encourage particular values through storytelling?
• What values do you see as important to a better future?
I invite you to comment on this post or to contact me directly. Since one of my top eight values is “the preciousness of every human point of view,” I am eager to hear your thoughts and experiences. Is it hard for you to think or tell or teach about the future? About values? What successes have you had? What struggles have you encountered?

Together, I believe, we can help use the unsung powers of storytelling for the common good.

This is an excerpt from an article that will run in the January/February 2016 edition of the LANES Museletter, available via email to LANES members. To connect your own storytelling practice to these ideas, come to Doug’s workshop, “The Values of the Future Through Storytelling,” on Saturday, April 2 at Sharing the Fire 2016.

Learn more about Sharing the Fire at and register today!

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  1. I am particularly driven by your Value # 5, Doug. I do a lot of participatory folktales in which my audience helps to create the characters, move the plot along, and define the moral (if there is one). I think this is central to storytelling because it shares the truth that stories come from each and every one of us and are constantly being passed forward. Children, especially, tend to think that stories all come from books. My crusade is to demonstrate to them that stories come from people… including themselves.

    • I love what you say, Hope. My schooling – from 7th grade English to graduate school in literature – made it seem that stories have a single meaning (and the student’s job was to figure it out, preferably before any other student). But, as a practicing storyteller, I know that each story has an infinite number of possible meanings. The job of the storyteller is to find one key meaning that suits the teller, and then to shape the story to carry that meaning consistently.

      I particularly love your simple statement: “stories come from people.” In a way, we seem to be educated to think that truth and beauty are “out there” rather than living inside each of us.


  2. Dear Doug, im very honour to receive all your news letters and comments about our precious path of the storytellers, im from México city and im storyteller too, im opening a School of Storytelling in the city, and i would love to have more information and relation with you.
    Thank you very much to expand my imagination and my relation with my precious work as storyteller.
    Rosamaria Durand.

  3. I enjoyed your values, Doug. I am working with a story about gluttony (a monkey gobbles up a woman’s garden). Although the subject of the story is food, any imbalance can be considered. With a kindergarten class, we are considering anything that can be consumed in excess such as sugar, TV, scary movies, cell phones, video games, types of music, etc. and how we ourselves are responsible for limiting some things to maintain a healthy balance of friendships, outdoor time, and exercise.

    • Thank you, Janet! I love your connection between gluttony and balance.

      You make me wonder if the maintenance of balance might be another value that can be reinforced by the very process of developing and telling stories: after all, we are always adjusting the story to maintain just the right balance between curiosity and frustration (for the listener) for example. Another instance might be how we adjust our language to strike a balance between telling the listener how to interpret parts of the story, on the one hand, and encouraging the listener to interpret in her own way, on the other.

      Very thought-provoking!


  4. Doug!
    After reading your literature, it makes me wonder if I am a storyteller or not. My mind is not going toward all the things you are about, when i tell a story. I have just being people entertaining people with stories and going my way. Concerned teller or want to be teller.

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