Storyteller focuses on Empathy – Wartburg College, Wavery IA
article by Amara Thein
Storytelling, through empathy and resilience, holds the power to create meaningful personal connections in our lives, Laura Simms said during her presentation in the Lyceum, Wednesday, Oct. 16.
Simms, a nationally recognized storyteller, captured the attention of an audience of nearly 200 students, faculty and staff by sharing personal experiences.
Simms said it is easy to think of stories as anecdotes or lessons, but people need to recognize storytelling as a shared experience between people.
“Storytelling is about the ability to come together in a physical, emotional, wide-awake experience while listening to a story. Nothing compares to it. You can read a story in a book, but it doesn’t have the same impact of a human voice and other people hearing the same story with you,” Simms said.
Simms shared a story about her friend who was a victim of war in Africa as a child.
She said a child-soldier amputated the boy’s arms and murdered his parents. Upon seeing the child-soldier for the first time since the assault at a refugee camp, the boy was filled with rage.
The child-soldier begged the boy for forgiveness, saying that he couldn’t live with his actions.
The boy forgave him, Simms said to the audience. Telling the story from the perspective of the boy, she said, “I had lost so much, but I had never lost my heart. This boy lost everything.”
After finishing the story, Simms encouraged the audience to share what they visualized, felt and associated while she told the story.
Members of the audience said they were upset and shocked, but also enlightened, inspired and humbled.
Full engagement between the speaker and the audience is the most powerful aspect of storytelling, Simms said.
“When we listen, we become everything in the story as we hear it,” Simms said. “When we become fully engaged with another’s words, we become completely present and awake in that moment of sharing.”
Simms said this is the most natural form of empathy and resilience. Genuine communication expands our state of mind, giving us flexibility and understanding to imagine alternative possibilities.
“We often lose focus of what others are saying because our own judgments distract us from fully engaging in the conversation,” Simms said.
“We are often blocked by our opinions and become unable to empathize with people.”
Monica Sieg, a student who attended Simms’s presentation, said she agreed that personal communication skills are lacking today, especially because technology is a primary form of communication.
“It is essential to remember the fundamentals of face-to-face communication. We sometimes lose the simple things by communicating through screens,” Sieg said.
Dr. Penni Pier attended the event and said she was deeply inspired and hopes to see Simms’ message have a positive effect throughout campus.
“Our messages, our stories, the way that we treat each other can really impact another person’s life significantly, even though it may not seem like it at the time,” Pier said.
“If those students who heard the message will just listen with more empathy, then, wow, that’s already a huge accomplishment,” Pier said.