The Power of Storytelling and Myth in Indian Culture and How it Can be Used in Leadership Development.
The way they make us laugh, weep, think, reflect, decide, and act – I’m sure a lot has been figured already about the power they have over our emotions if struck rightly with us.
Can we think of them the same way when it is about something seemingly bigger, say – driving projects, gaining success, or developing leadership?
The answer lies in the first statement itself. We are emotional beings and nothing that we do is without this beautiful part of our being in this world.
The intent to speak the truth gets strengthened when we are reminded of the story of “The boy who cried Wolf!” because the story does not just give a message, it also captures the cause (of speaking a lie) and effect (of suffering) logic as well as the sentiment of fear from danger.
Can we count the number of times we visited the story of The tortoise and the rabbit and the learnings that continue to emerge from the same small story to date?
Each culture has its own stories to tell, to children and adults alike. So, can one of the oldest of them all – the Bhartiya culture be left behind? Countless stories of a hundred million deities, inspiring stories of historical figures, stories of animals, birds, insects, constellations, and elements of nature like air, water, and earth, the persona given to them in our culture make it even more interesting to learn.
But why learn from the stories? What do we get out of them? And how does that influence the development of an individual, as generally perceived since ages?
The storytellers, for many ages, have induced their own emotions and under that, caught the emotional rhythm of the audience. Renowned theatre artist Saurabh Shukla asserted while reciting a poem in an interview with the YouTube channel ‘Hindi Kavita’ – “When a story is told, the listeners are taken from their present to a different place. A place that sometimes gives their troubled mind, some cushioning. Many a time, while handling a conflict, we want to hear a story of someone who’s gone through a similar situation just to feel that we aren’t alone in this. And this leads to a sense of hope that one will be able to pass through that phase.”
Those who have inherent traits of leadership, find the scope of inspiration in stories. They look at them as resources to be utilized to the fullest – for self as well as for organizational development. For such a candidate of becoming a leader, the source of the story makes little difference. It could be either fictional or factual.
Father of South Africa – Nelson Mandela found his role model in Mahatma Gandhi. He could never meet him but learned about what he had done for the downtrodden in South Africa, his Satyagraha campaign in India, and his thoughts that crossed many borders due to his strong public worth. Mandela followed Gandhiji’s footsteps throughout his lifetime and this couldn’t have been possible without him having heard the stories of Gandhiji and his many endeavours.
More than 10 generations on, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, his stories and anecdotes continue to inspire the general public and leaders of today, alike.
What holds a strong presence in the social consciousness of today is not just the facts formed into historical narratives. Ramayan and Mahabharat – two epics from Bhartiya culture, still drive the sentiments, actions, and movements of people, societies, and generations despite being debated on whether they happened in the first place, or not.
Economies take turns around the real dates mentioned in these epics, creating festivals. These festivals run the industries, feeds people, creates opportunities for business to make fortunes, and hence, create more stories of economic and managerial successes.
The stories also have the capacity of simplifying tricky concepts for those who may prefer to choose their intellect without going deeper into the science.
A young man, who could create a fortune by first selling a dead mouse and then using that money to trade into multiple commodities for some years, is a famous folktale that ends with the mouse merchant marrying the royal advisor’s daughter. A happy ending that teaches the concept of rotation of money in business, besides the aspects of customer relations, resource management, etc.
The Abhimanyu anecdote, in which he learns the tricks of warfare while being in his mother’s womb creates a fascinating turn of events in the epic Mahabharat. And in a very subtle way, teaches the parent the biological fact that a child can receive information in various forms while still unborn. This covers the aspect of maintaining a constructive environment during pregnancy to just make the child learn good inherent traits.
In all these examples, we can’t miss the possibility of today’s leaders learning eternal concepts. These concepts about how to conduct an organization, work towards the prosperity of the stakeholders, and nurture a purpose of long-lasting happiness for them, have been made possible to time-travel for thousands of years largely through stories and epics.
Can we think of our lives without storytelling? I’m sure not. Because the emotional churning created by simply connecting with a story creates ripples of energy inside us. What stirs inside us, has the capacity of bringing tides to the world around us. And when that happens, leaders are born, made, developed – everything, to make new stories for the next generation to get inspired.