If a story is told and nobody is listening, has it really been told?

If a story is told and nobody is listening, has the story really been told?

Written By : on March 19, 2014

If a story is told and nobody is listening, has the story really been told?

If a story is told and nobody is listening, has the story really been told?

That conundrum came to me recently and reminded me of the Koan’s, an Ancient Eastern concept.

Although I’m an Irish woman, living in the United Kingdom and working internationally, I’m intrigued by some Ancient Eastern philosophies, hence, entitling my book The Tao of Storytelling. The Koan is one such ideology.

Koan’s originated from Buddhism in Japan and also from the Chinese Masters, with the aim of provoking a student’s mind into analysis until it became exhausted. Eventually, when the student’s analytical mind was defeated there was space for intuition to flow.

The Chinese Koans were based upon anecdotes such as;

A Chinese Zen teacher, lived alone in a small temple in the country. One day two travelling monks appeared and asked if they could make a fire in his garden to warm themselves.

While they were building the fire, The Zen Teacher overheard them arguing about subjectivity and objectivity. He joined them and said: “There is a big stone – do you consider it to be inside or outside your mind?”

One of the monks replied: “From the Buddhist perspective everything is an objectification of mind, so I’d say that the stone is inside my mind.”

“Your head must feel very heavy,” observed The Zen Teacher, “if you are carrying around a stone like that in your mind.”

The Japanese Koans, in contrast, were based upon questions or statements such as;

“When two hands are clapped together they make a sound, what’s the sound of one hand clapping?”

Both types of Koan however had the same intent, to engender a reflective state that enabled the student to allow or receive wisdom from their intuition.

Working internationally, I’ve noticed how well our South East Asian business colleagues listen, while in the West our listening muscle is weak. In Western business culture we seem to be better at talking rather than listening to others. We know that listening is polite and so, with great restraint, we refrain from interrupting when others are speaking. However listening is so much more than a courtesy to others. There are gifts in it for us as the listener too.

In storytelling – a connection is forged between the storyteller and the listener. As listeners we’re the vessel for the story – we hold it in our minds and in our hearts. When we allow the story to wash over us like surf on the beach, in its wake we become transformed in a small or even in a big way. When we become open to absorbing the energy that the storyteller is sending us we become more inspired, compassionate, enthusiastic, motivated, joyful or whatever else is being transmuted.

Storytelling is like the tide – with an ebb and flow between the telling and listening. A connection is forged between the storyteller and the audience, with both the teller and the listener being essential to story’s impact.

So here’s a modern day Koan to ponder and I’d love to hear your comments:

If a story is told and nobody is listening, has the story really been told?   And what about the stories that we tell ourselves?






Claire Taylor is co-founder of The Story Mill – a business that creates innovative programmes to support organisations to make their brands more human and foster a culture of authenticity and innovation. We run engaging storytelling workshops including: Storytelling in Leadership, Influencing, Branding, Strategy, Culture and Innovation.Claire is a Corporate Storyteller, Coach, Consultant, Trainer and Author of The Tao of Storytelling.

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