Last week I had the pleasure of Skyping in to Exeter, New Hampshire for two back-to-back sessions at Phillips Exeter Academy‘s Climate Action Day. This is the second year that PEA has held the event. Last year’s main speaker was Bill McKibben.
On Climate Action Day, Exeter takes a break from the normal class schedule to hold a series of workshops on environmental and sustainability issues. This year, workshops included an audit of trash and recycling, tours of the Academy woods and power plant, work building a rain garden, an in-depth look at the Flint, MI water crisis, and a talk by yours truly over Skype.
Exeter generously offered to fly me in from New Zealand to give the talk in person, but I’m doing by best to reduce my environmental footprint. Avoiding flying is one huge way I can cut down on that. (You can calculate your own environmental footprint here.)
I structured the talk in three parts. For the first 45 minutes, I told my story: how I went from Exeter to Harvard to cycling around the world. I talked in depth about my trip down the Mississippi River Trail in August 2013, my love for Anna Deavere Smith’s work, and what it’s like to hitch rides on boats in the South Pacific.
So far I have traveled and collected stories about water and climate change in the USA, Fiji, Tuvalu, New Zealand, and Australia. In mid-May 2016, I will arrive in Bangkok and start cycling and collecting stories in Southeast Asia.
After telling my story, I asked the audience to divide into pairs and match with someone they have never had a conversation with before.
The prompt: ask that person to tell you a story about water, a story about climate change, or whatever else might be on their mind. I asked the students to focus on eye contact, rhythm, and depth of focus (all topics touched on in the My Story part of the talk).
After a short time, the roles switched and the storyteller would become the storylistener.
I asked the students to thank their partners for sharing their story, because gratitude is important. Every story is a gift.
Then, I asked the pairs to brainstorm an answer to the question: How can I re-tell the story that I just heard in the most powerful and respectful way?
I wish I could have been there in person to walk around the space and listen. From my corner of the planet, it sounded like many wonderful conversations were happening at once.
We ended with 15 minutes of Q&A.
The students’ questions floored me:
“What do you plan to do with all of your stories?” “Where do you see yourself after the end of this journey?” “How do you cope with other peoples’ fears?”
All beautiful questions––thoughtful ones.
“What is a story?” one student asked. “How would you define story?”
Here is my best answer:
Storytelling is a way of communicating individual or group identity in real time. Stories are sticky, in that they are easy to transfer between people, and a well-communicated story has the power to stay around long after the original storytelling event.
Not all stories are told. Some are danced, some are written, and others are transformed into various works of art. I like that the definition above is broad enough to encompass many different forms of storytelling.
That said, it is by no means the only answer to the question. Stories have as many forms as the people who tell them. The most beautiful questions have many answers, I think.
It was an absolute joy to give a talk at Exeter, and I hope that I can return to campus to say hello in person once I am back in North America.
Do you like the sound of the above & want to have me to speak at your campus / company / event?
I am available to give similar talks anywhere in the world via Skype, so long as I have an internet connection. You can learn more here: devi-lockwood.com/speaking-engagements
Arohanui = big love,