The words “motivational speaker” jumped off the page at me. I have been called A LOT of things in my life -– everything from creative to hyper to short – but never in my whole entire life had I ever been called a “motivational speaker,” and yet, that’s what I was being asked to be in a project I began this month for Storytelling Arts.
In my brain, a “motivational speaker” is someone like Tony Robbins -– particularly in that Jack Black movie from a few years ago “Shallow Hal.” Kind of tall, in a dark business suit, sprouting phrases like “Think outside the box!” or “Follow your bliss!” while running power point presentations in large ballrooms. And, while I have trouble even finding the proverbial “box”, and, if becoming a storytelling dancer clown who teaches yoga isn’t following ones bliss, I don’t know what the heck is –- I just couldn’t cozy up to the label “motivational speaker” (hereto referred to as M.O.) But, like we outside the box bliss followers sometimes have to do –- I had to make it work. Lucky for me, folktales saved my un-Tony Robbins-like rear end!
I don’t know where real M.O.’s get material that will at once teach life lessons, while keeping a crowd interested and hanging on their every word. But, all I had to do was go to my friends and teachers -- my folktale anthologies. Within the world of folktales are a great many stories that teach us things we all need to learn. Like the Jewish story “Feathers,” that tells of a woman who, after spreading rumors about everyone, is sent before the judge. To teach her a lesson about the dangers of gossiping, he instructs her to take a feather pillow outdoors, shake out all the feathers, and then try to get them back in again. When she finds that the feathers blow away, and that she can’t get them back inside the pillow, the judge informs her that it is the same things for words. Once they leave our lips, we can never get them back again.
It was “Feathers” that I told a group of 5th and 6th graders in my role of M.O., and the “Ooooh, I get it!” that came at the end of the story made me smile. The discussion we had after that story, told me that there was no better entry into this topic than the wisdom of the ancients who had created this gem of a tale. Back then, they didn’t have power points – they had stories. Stories that spoke, and continue to speak in a language we all can understand. Stories that don’t hit us over the head with a point, but rather, offer themselves up so that everyone can discover the lessons wrapped in them on their own.
Whenever I’m asked what I do for a living, I always joke and say, “I’m a storyteller/dancer/clown/yoga instructor/chimney sweep –- just kidding about the last one!” But, maybe I’ve got a better, and perhaps truer, punch line, maybe, thanks to my pals, the folktales, I can say I’m a storyteller/dancer/clown/yoga instructor/motivational speaker/chimney sweep – hey, the chimney sweep part is too funny to lose!!