Competition, Community, Generosity … and their Relationship with Storytelling

In a thoughtful and thought-provoking blog post, Storytelling: Community through… Competition?, Katie Knutson talks about how, even in competitive settings, storytellers generate a strong sense of community.

Knutson recalls that despite the “fiercely competitive” storytelling category in her high-school forensics contests, a sense of community persisted in that category as with no other in the forensics competition:

… the storytellers talked, complimented each other on stories, shared ideas, laughed, and celebrated the successes of our competitors. After all, the better our competition was, the better we had to be.

She raises a question that everyone in the story world might ask: “Was there something special about storytelling that created community among competitors? Was it the act of sharing stories or the people who created the sense of belonging?

As an adult oral-performance storyteller, Knutson notes that she is still in competition with other storytellers — for gigs, grant money, and more. Yet …

Despite this competition, the community persists. We come together to share our stories, best practices, and skills. We welcome newcomers and encourage others to join us — not because there is so much work that we cannot do it all, but because we have a passion. We get to use our gifts to make a difference, and have a wonderful time doing it.

One thing that has struck me more than just about anything else in the eight years I’ve been in the applied-storytelling realm is that exact same kind of community and mutual support. In theory, many story practitioners are competing for clients, for readers, for buyers, and more. Yet the same spirit of community and mutual support Knutson observes is evident in the applied world. We help each other out, give shootouts and pats on the back, and support each others’ endeavors.

I’d go a step further and cite the incredible spirit of generosity in the story world; storytellers and practitioners are constantly offering freebies — ebooks, white papers, tools, and more — to their constituencies and the general public.

I do think this sense of community and generosity is unique to the story world. I see it in the other major sector I travel in — job search and careers — but to a much lesser extent.

Thus, Knutson’s question is appropriate. Is it the act of sharing stories that creates community?

It just may be. I’ve been revisiting The Spirituality of Imperfection for an upcoming Toastmasters speech. The book, subtitled, “Storytelling and the Search for Meaning,” emphasizes the connectedness people feel when they share stories.

And that’s the key, I think, that we professionals who “compete” in the story world are connected by the stories we share.