Observer-Dispatch: Utica College assistant professor shares the value of stories
Gratch says we all can learn from telling, listening to stories
Ariel Gratch is a professor, storyteller and peacemaker.
An assistant professor of communication arts at Utica College, Gratch teaches, researches and performs stories; he’s performed twice at the National Storytelling Festival’s Story Slam.
And he worked with the International Storytelling Center in Jonesborough, Tennessee — home of the festival — on a winning entry in the Perdue Peace Project’s Peacebuilding Big Idea Challenge, which asks participants to find a way to address violence and hate using $10,000.
Their solution: a video game that teaches players how to tell stories and has them upload those stories to complete missions.
“For example, in a community where tensions are building between religious groups, a mission might be for players to meet offline and collaborate on telling a story with someone who identifies with a different religion,” Gratch said via email. “Then they would record and upload the story to the game, gaining experience points and community engagement points. Missions are meant to help players become better storytellers and to preemptively address possible conflict.”
What does a storyteller do and how is it different from Uncle Bob talking about his fishing trip?
Most storytellers tell a mix of personal stories, folktales, historical stories and myths, and I’m no exception. One of my favorites to tell is the story of Prometheus stealing fire from the gods because it helps us understand the recklessness of impulsive actions and the importance of hope. What makes a storyteller different from someone simply telling a story is that a storyteller helps their audience better understand universal human experiences. Uncle Bob wanting our praise for his big catch is different than storyteller Bob helping us see the joys of perseverance and hard work.
What attracts you to stories?
I like the simplicity of stories. Anyone with the desire to tell can learn to be a storyteller. And stories themselves are meant to be useful teaching tools to help us navigate the difficulties of everyday life. For instance, it might not be enough to tell someone that they’re being vain. The story of Narcissus helps us better understand the consequences of vanity.
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