Last month I spent some time working in Swedenwith a group of 40 talented individuals aged 19 to 25 who come from all over the world to join the yearlong Youth Initiative Programme (YIP). This is my third year of contributing to this training in social entrepreneurship, which explores inner and outer aspects of life and guides development of skills needed to make a positive contribution to today’s society.
The unique contribution of YIP is to bring the creative energies of young people into direct contact with the needs and aspirations of local communities. Through this engagement, YIP facilitates the growth and development of both the young people involved and the communities which benefit from their activities.
Working with storytelling and stories, it was a moving experience for me to hear these young people who, harvesting the consequences of previous generation's actions, speak about the social, environmental and global challenges we all face today.
One current challenge of particular interest to me is the relationship between exponentially advancing machine technology and good old humanity. While I was in Sweden I watched a startling film called 'Transcendent Man'. This documentary, by director Barry Ptolemy, chronicles the life and controversial ideas of Ray Kurzweil, one of the most respected and provocative advocates of the role of technology in our future. www.transcendentman.com. I warmly recommend all storytellers to watch this film as it presents us with an essential challenge for humanity of today.
Kurzweil predicts that with the ever-accelerating rate of technological change, humanity is fast approaching 'singularity' - an era in which our intelligence will become increasingly non-biological and millions of times more powerful. Using genetic engineering, nanotechnology and robotics, humans could merge with powerful computers and become immortal in as little as 20-30 years' time. In Kurzweil's future world, boundaries blur between human and machine, real and virtual.
Some of us may find such ideas difficult to swallow, or argue it is just another science fiction story and that we have to wait until we see it to believe it. I encourage you to watch the film, and read the biography of Kurzweil who is a co-founder of the Singularity University which is financed by Google and the U.S government agency NASA to realize how widely his ideas are accepted. Governments and leading corporates have invested heavily in artificial intelligence projects, financially demonstrating they believe it …to see it and create it.
It is clear to me that this tension between human and machines is becoming one of the greatest challenges of this century. The life of the young people I met in Sweden (and all of us) is already dramatically different to the life we lived when I was 20 (only 19 years ago…).
These young people I met are embodying the battle. They strive and struggle to move beyond Facebook friendships to find face to face friendships, swinging between virtual social networks and forming real living communities of free individuals. They are equipped and connected withiPod, iPhone, iPad but they long for another connection, to find their true ' I am' (yes…the one with capital letter!) their connection to the spirit, trusting it to be sustainable and far greater than the rechargeable cold and virtual substitutes.
Way before anyone imagined the first T.V set, the call for storytellers and bards, prophets and poets was always to tell-a-vision, to provide the community, through a live encounter, with images and imaginations that can give direction, inspire, heal and entertain. Imagination is an incredible capacity available to we human beings, storytellers and scientists. It offers us the ability to look at any situation from various points of view, making it possible to create and experience the whole world inside the mind. Without imagination we are doomed to forever accept the challenging reality of our world today with no vision for creative solutions.
I don't believe we should (or in fact can) turn our backs on technology. Undeniably I use it here to share these typed words with you. But it feels clear to me that technology is here to serve imaginative human beings and not the other way around. To face the challenges presented in 'Transcendent Man', we are called to develop moral imagination, an ethical response that cannot be programmed, predicted or prescribed but must arise out of the individual in a particular situation. We need to ask ourselves what makes us truly human, pay attention to human encounters, to the mystery of the present moment when we actively open to observe what comes into the co-creative space between any two or more humans when they meet with such intention.
For me this is exactly what we explore whenever we gather under the inclusive umbrella called storytelling. The heroes and heroines we follow (providing they do not stray off the hero's path and are turned into stone or fall prey to the dragon) shine their light on the mystery of what it means to be human. In my experience, when I am open enough in any good conversation after a sharing of a story anywhere in the world, I can meet the warm, living spirit, revealing itself to me through my companions regardless of their age, nationality or religion.
I would like to finish with one such revelation moment I experienced one evening as we were talking about Singularity and the meaning of wonder tales over supper at YIP. Towards the end of the conversation Noemi, a young woman sitting opposite me with a bright living human twinkle in her eyes, said: "There is one thing computers will never ever be able to do! They will never be able to fully grasp the many interpretations, meanings and the infinite metaphors for individuals that are contained in these wonder tales…" I knew she was absolutely right, and felt she gave me some human courage. I wished that all the yet unborn intelligent computers of the future could hear this truth and take it into their hearts…well…if they ever come to have one...
2009 TED talk about founding of Singularity: www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJsHRltEVBc&feature=related
Thank you so much to all of you who sent in suggestions for a title for the book that Ashley and I have written on the craft of storytelling; it was an incredibly creative response! It was noticeable that the published authors amongst you sent in the plainest titles, saying such things as “just call it Storytelling because then it will come up straight away when people are searching on the net” – very practical, although in our hearts we wanted something more poetic. In the end, we went for a practical title that we came up with ourselves but we have decided to give a free signed copy of the book to the creative title we both liked best which was “Here Be Dragons” suggested by Andrew Robinson. Congratulations Andrew and the book will be with you later this year!
So, “Storytelling with Heart and Craft: an Interactive Workbook” will be published by Hawthorn Press this autumn after a 10 year gestation process. It will be available on Amazon and stocked in the Emerson book shop, priced £25 (it's quite a hefty book). If you've been on the three month course at any time, you may well recognise some of the anecdotes in there - it may even have been you! And it's also worth mentioning that Geoff Mead, who was a student on that same course in 2002 has just published an excellent book called “Coming Home to Story (Vala Publishing Co-operative) which I can heartily recommend.
Update from the Frontline
Thank you to everyone who has supported us during this past two years as the School of Storytelling has become an independent Charity. It has not been an altogether easy time but we are glad to say that things are flowing more, new courses are flourishing (Roi and Inger Lise have just finished a very successful Common Ground as we write) and a brand new board of Trustees met for the first time on May 2nd. We have been joined as Trustees by: Belinda Heys, David Confino, Dave Adams, Geoff Mead and June Peters (some of these names will be familiar to some of you). Each of them brings a particular area of expertise as well as being familiar with the work of the School. Being a Trustee is an unpaid position and all of them will be gifting their time and energy to help us on our way. Thank you so much on behalf of all of us.
We have not put the prices of our courses up since 2009 but in 2013 you will find that some course prices will increase very slightly. The good news is that the three month The Heart and Craft of the Storyteller course will not be affected, so if you are frantically saving to come on this life changing course, you're still on track! We will also offer Early Bird reductions for longer courses.
Later this year, we will be launching our first fundraising initiative which will be to help foster the work that Sue and Ashley have started in South Africa. There, a small amount of money can make a huge difference. We will be looking for 100 friends of the School of Storytelling who would be willing to donate £10 a month for 5 years (although we won't turn down large one-off amounts of course!) Look out for more about the initiative and the work it will support, as well as details of how you could become involved, in the next newsletter.
Finally, best wishes for a wonderful summer (or for friends in the Southern Hemisphere, don't worry, winter will soon be over!)
The Giving Machine
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A report of the use of funds donated by the International School of Storytelling for the "Gate to Humanity" Festival and the "Beyond Enemy Lines" Course April 18-28 2012
There were seven participants involved in the course Beyond Enemy Lines. The course fee was 300 euro. The funds allowed two students, one Jewish and one Arab, to participate: without this assistance they would not have been able to be part of the work. The remaining funds were used for the building of an ecological toilet and shower on the festival side and essential administration.
Beyond Enemy Lines was a ten day intensive exploring between personal narratives and traditional tales around the theme of the enemy within and without. It included a building of story skills, autobiographical work connected to the theme and the final crafting of a 12 minute story for the festival.
The stories of the participants were gathered into a 90 minutes performance which was performed on three different occasions throughout the festival and achieved a high quality in the short time available.
The international character of the group, UK, Sweden, Ireland, Israeli Jews and Arabs, Russian, was also a major contribution to the spirit of the work.
The festival lasted three days and had about 400 attendants. The crowd contained mainly Arab And Jewish people from the area. the festival program contained : different circle talks investigating the possibilities of creating a better future, storytelling performances (by our students, By a Palestinian storyteller and by Ashley Ramsden),musical performances and more. The aim of the festival was to plant the seeds of a new culture which will be created by both Arabs and Jews together , a culture which strengthens the meeting between people beyond their national identity and bridges their diversities.
The Gate to Humanity wishes to express its gratitude for the support from the International School of Storytelling. Without this assistance the project would not have been possible.