Reeling with shock from the result of the EU referendum it is hard to know where to turn. The Guardian has been doing amazing journalism, voicing the powerful emotions and issues this devastating situation is generating on all sides. The divisions across the UK are stark, and the referendum has fostered them. They seem to have allowed people to cross a line, giving permission for racism and hatred. My Greek partner went to work today afraid of what hidden attitudes might be around him. I usually turn to stories in dark times. I am currently preparing performances for Beyond the Border Storytelling Festival (1 – 3 July).
But can stories help now? Then I remembered the Kurdish proverb –
stories have no passports
Traditional stories belong to us all, left to us by ancestors Anon, passed by word of mouth through generations, travelling across borders, languages, religions. The same stories appear and re-appear all over the world. Versions of Cinderella are found in Afghanistan, South America, Russia, China…to name a few. These versions have similar narrative elements, motherless daughter, magic helper, jealousy, and shoes! But each community creates their own version. They set the universal patterns in their own specific location, with its own geography, clothes, food, and plot details. In Russia the magic helper is a doll, in China a fish, in South America a turkey, in Afghanistan a cow. These differences are not superficial, they represent cultural and symbolic meanings for each community. But the ancient patterns and metaphorical language that fairytales and myths contain, speak about what it is to be human, linking us across the world. And this is how and why stories have travelled beyond borders.
Traditional stories are both local and global. Europe is deeply part of my life. Growing up in Germany Grimms fairytales were all around. Visiting Greece frequently the myths are still so alive. Working across Europe with colleagues, organizations, and so many valued friends. I love European fairytales with a passion. I am heartbroken that the UK voted to leave the EU. But a large proportion of people voted to leave. Their discontent somehow needs to be heard.
I have always been struck how storytelling across Europe is often very political. Tellers use traditional stories to comment and criticise and change. Storytelling in the UK has not evolved in that way. Perhaps because we have been too complacent and blind to what is going on around us. It seems that we are in for a rocky road for a long time to come. Maybe we will use stories in new ways now? I hope that through listening, speaking, and sharing, divisions can be healed and the balance between local and global restored.