Early Spring 2012 … What a busy and wonderful couple of weeks. The weather in Colorado continues to delight and amaze. Becker Impact is enjoying a rush of new clients, and meaningful and challenging work. At home, my family and I are excitedly preparing for the celebration of Passover and the arrival of our out-of-town guests.
The Passover Seder is the most widely observed Jewish ritual around the world. Many are drawn to the religious aspects of the observance; others to the family and community elements. Perhaps it is because helping organizations tell their stories is what I do for a living, but I think that it’s the emphasis on story-telling that draws so many into this holiday.
Passover commemorates the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in Ancient Egypt. The focal point of the holiday is the Seder, a fifteen-step family-oriented tradition and ritual-packed feast. At the seder, participants read from a book called a Haggadah, which tells the story of the Exodus from Egypt.
Quick, think of a good story you’ve heard in the last few months, or even years – any story (children’s bedtime story, narrative joke, story in a presentation at work, etc.)
Now think of a couple of good statistics you’ve heard in the last few weeks.
Stories can have a profound effect on people, and can powerfully affect behavior. People learn best – and change – from hearing stories that strike a chord within them. This is because personal stories feel “real,” unlike abstract concepts, statistics or logical arguments. Stories capture people on an emotional level, creating a deeper, more intimate bond. Stories are memorable. And today when we are drowning in information, good stories can cut through the noise.
According to Rabbi Ayelet Cohen, the most revolutionary aspect of the Passover Haggadah is that it’s a collage of many different voices, a collection of stories from the Talmud and a compilation of biblical and liturgical quotations. “The most common misunderstanding is that it’s just the story of the Exodus,” says Cohen, a consultant to Beit Simchat Torah, a gay and lesbian congregation in Manhattan. “One of the most damaging misconceptions in Jewish life is that there is only one version of one story, and that the stories of women’s experiences and those of others who are marginalized because of economics, physical ability, age, sexual orientation, or gender identity are not part of that Jewish story.” The Haggadah teaches that there isn’t just one story, she says. “That’s the telling we are obligated to continue.”
I believe that the popularity of celebrating Passover, and reading and creating new interpretations of the Haggadah, reveals the revolutionary power of story telling. Recalling the plight of the Israelites helps us figure out how to most meaningfully experience and best appreciate our freedom today.