ecuador_blog_image_03I consider myself more resourceful than sagacious, more pupil than professorial and definitely more the initiate than master of anything, but this past week here in Ecuador has thrown me into quite a bit of self-reflection.

Plain and simple, I present myself to the world as a storyteller but I am beginning to question the clarity of that title.

Earlier in the week I completed a session of sharing stories and facilitated discussion with an assembly of teens. One of the young women from the group approached me. Her expression was sad, her demeanor defeated. When I asked her what was wrong, she said, “You said that I was beautiful. I am not beautiful.”

During my telling of the story I had identified her, as well as many other of the youth in the audience as “beautiful people.”

I listened to her words and tried to empathize. This was not the typical teen, angst ridden, fishing for a compliment situation we all know and are aware of. She was truly tortured by her identity.

I was torn between wanting to scream at the top of my lungs at a pop culture that systematically propagandizes destructive images to our youth and our failure as elders to combat the crisis.

Her reasoning was the same as I’ve heard from young women the world over. A distorted standard of beauty has been proselytized that does not reflect the reality of the world we live in.

Before allowing her to walk away, I pleaded with her to try and see herself as truly a beautiful, substantive young woman. I left that school with my heart aching.

I present myself to the world as a storyteller but I am beginning to question the clarity of that title.

In another school, a young woman approached me after a performance and pleaded for a moment of my time. I sat down next to her in a chair near the stage and began listening. Her narrative of familial dysfunction, being bullied and adolescent confusion made my heart sink.

After more than an hour of listening, I asked the young woman to trust me as we sought out an adult on the campus for help.

I needed another adult to see her as I did. I needed a trusted adult to listen to her as I had. What I really needed, and was hoping for, was someone empowered to take action on this child’s behalf.

I present myself to the world as a storyteller but I am beginning to question the clarity of that title.

Another day, a teen boy walked into a room I was preparing to leave and asked if he could talk to me. I never deny these occurrences and they do seem to happen often.

We sat down and he began to tell me about a young woman whom he had hurt emotionally. I felt as though I was sitting with my son or one of the young men I had mentored years ago. There was definitely a lack of maturity in his reasoning, and a selfishness mixed with a seedling of narcissism in his recounting of events.

I listened intently trying not to make any judgments, but it was hard. I’ve lived too many years and cannot escape the whispering voices of my consciousness.

When he finished speaking, he paused for a response from me. I wanted to be thoughtful and so I asked him for a moment to let me think. I did. He sat there watching me mull over his situation for about 10, maybe 12 minutes. Once I felt comfortable with my thoughts, I shared them with him.

To say that I was harsh with him would be an understatement. To say that I was cruel would be a misunderstanding of my intentions. I spoke to him as a father would his son. I spoke to him about the disgust of objectifying women. I challenged him to dig deeper into his soul to discover a more positive reflection of self (someone that would make him proud). As odd as it may seem, the more direct in tone and uncompromising in discipline I got, the more he seemed to resonate with both my words, and me.

By the time we finished talking, he told me, “You are the first person “ever” to talk to me this way. I love you for what you have just given me.”

He left me to immediately go and apologize to the young woman. He had tears in his eyes. I left the campus and have not seen nor heard from the young man since.

Many seem to think my life is about performing, sharing tales and music. It is not. The majority of my time is spent listening to others. The incidents as I’ve shared above are not rare, nor are they exceptions to the rule of my life.

I present myself to the world as a storyteller but I am beginning to question the clarity of that title.

Maybe it is time to redefine the role and definition of what a storyteller is, and really does.


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