I’ve always loved stories. As a positive psychology trainer, I know stories are powerful vehicles for learning. There is ample evidence that humans learn far more effectively from a good narrative than we do from logical presentations. This has certainly been the case throughout my life.
My first memory of being at school is sitting on a mat during story time. I was enchanted by the characters my teacher played out as she flipped through the colourful pages of a storybook. Around the age of 13, someone gave me my first copy of One Thousand and One Nights. There I discovered my earliest role model: Scheherazade. She was a savvy Persian woman who saved lives by telling stories. I’m sometimes tempted to change my name to Scheherazade, because she’s been such an influence on my life.
As a trainer, I was always fascinated by the craft of designing and presenting teaching metaphors. I first discovered this concept when I studied neurolinguistic programming. There, a whole new world of clever storytelling techniques opened up. I’ve become an avid collector of tales and narratives. Out of all of these, though, I have one favourite. I heard it at a Women in Leadership conference at the University of Sydney. I cannot remember the name of the presenter, but her tale remains firmly fixed in my mind.
It was called The Owl Weaver. It told the tale of a little grey hen who wants to have a cloak as beautiful as that owned by a peacock. The hen visits the owl weaver, an artisan weaver who creates the most beautiful cloaks in the world. The owl agrees to create the cloak, on condition that the hen brings her the yarn to weave it from. This, it turns out, are the most joyful and the most despairing days of the hen’s life.
Like many learners, the hen does not pay attention to instructions. She heads off and gathers all her happiest memories and brings them back to the owl weaver. The cloak that is produced from this materialis a disappointing, unattractive mess. When the hen questions why this has happened, the owl instructs her to complete the task of gathering unhappy memories. With a despairing heart, the hen does so. Ultimately, the cloak produced by the owl is magnificent. The point of this story is that life is a rich tapestry of positive and painful moments. It is by weaving these together that we create beauty in our lives.
This is a story using many different contexts. To me, it embeds the essence of positive psychology. It is useful for people who are lacking in optimism and confidence. It helps us see that negative experiences can be transformed. And, most importantly, it teaches the power of seeing your whole life in perspective.
About the author: Eleanor Shakiba
Eleanor is a positive psychology trainer and coach. Her passion is teaching skills for positive thinking, proactive communication and purposeful leadership. Her clients work in academia, education, IT, engineering, finance and health. Eleanor is qualified in Social Anthropology, Positive Psychology, Counselling, Coaching, Adult Education and Neuro Linguistic Programming. She’s the author of the Positive Psychology Toolkit for HR and L&D Practitioners, a free resource for trainers.