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Moorings: The Power of Story

Howard Gardner from Harvard University is best-known for his research and writing on the theory and practice of Multiple Intelligences. His books include Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple IntelligencesMultiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice, and Intelligence Reframed: Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century. These works argue that Intelligence is not monolithic; the traditional IQ exams that have had such a profound effect on Western society and on its minorities only measure a part of the totality of human Intelligence. In addition to the traditional academic areas reflected in IQ exams, we human possess additional forms of Intelligence - in music, the arts, intrapersonal awareness, and interpersonal relationships. Those areas are also vital to our growth as fully-developed people and to the well-being of our societies.

Although Gardner is best-known as an Educational Psychologist and Cognitive Scientist, he has also written a number of books and articles on Leadership for the Harvard Business School. In Leading Minds: An Anatomy of Leadership and in Changing Minds: The Art and Science of Changing Our Own and Other People's Minds, Gardner explores the lives of outstanding Leaders in business, politics, and the military and examines the strategies and qualities of powerful change agents in our society.

One of Gardner's themes in his work on Leadership and Change is the power of story. Great Leaders frequently embody powerful, resonant stories and imagery in their lives, in their communications, and in their relationships with their societies. These stories become a foundation of the Leader's power and influence and can generate the drive that produces profound change.

Gardner's writing on the power of story reminds me of examples within my lifetime of great, energizing stories. John F. Kennedy's projection of youth and vigor reflected an American society at the pinnacle of its influence. Ronald Reagan's "Morning in America" resonated deeply with millions of Americans who longed for a re-birth and continuation of that influence. Bill Clinton's "Man from Hope" was a key expression of his empathy and connection with the dispossessed in our society.

I am not arguing that these stories were "right" or accurate. Whether I agree or disagree with the generators of those images and their associated policies, I recognize the importance of the stories in the lives of Leaders and in their relationships with their societies.

Stories have always had a strong attraction for me. Some of my earliest memories are the Golden Books that my parents gave me a lifetime ago (I still have some of them). When I was growing up, I watched Shirley Temple's show on Fairy Tales. A generation later, my eldest daughter treasured the videos of Shelley Duvall's successor to Shirley Temple's work. One of my favorite television scenes was the introduction to Steven Spielberg's short-lived "Amazing Stories"; a group of early humans sit around a blazing, crackling campfire on a Neolithic night and tell their animated tales full of gestures and wonder faces.

Today, one of my favorite works is "The Fairy Tale Project" on the Center for Education and Change Web site. The foundation of this project is a series of public domain collections of fairy tales, legends, and folklore from around the world. I break up the books into individual stories, generated .doc, .pdf, .txt, and, eventually, .ppt files. I am also creating videos of me reading the stories; at this time, there are only a few videos. The final step is for me to re-tell my own versions of the stories.

 

 

I love doing this work. The stories embody the wisdom - and the lack of wisdom - that have been a part of our humanity for millennia. They are a central part of our legacy as human beings, and I want to do all that I can do to preserve them and to pass them on to my children and grandchildren.

Will these stories make me a wise person? Will these stories make me a powerful Leader? 

Alas, Life is more complex than reading and telling stories.

However, as John F. Kennedy wrote in Profiles in Courage about the stories he told,

"These stories of past courage can teach, they can offer hope, they can provide inspiration, but they cannot supply courage itself. For this, each man must look into his own soul."

It is no small accomplishment for stories to offer hope in a tormented world.

   - Mike Genevro

Center for Education and Change

 

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