You have seen him, walking alone in the school yard, it is not easy to spot him, for he wanders among other children, as if to hide that he is completely alone. In motion, no one notices that he really has no one to talk to. Or she who sits on the subway with headphones, her eyes are turned to something else where no one can meet her gaze and discover, through her eyes, her silent secrets, the headphones make her seem like she is part of something. Or the one who looks down in a classroom, in a meeting room, the one who will not be discovered, because he or she must not, do not want, cannot …
As a storyteller, I participate in a European project called “Common future Common ground” where we methodically study and implement schemes to discuss and possibly – hopefully change narratives used to promote polarization and stigma. Unfortunately, the stigmatized narratives are not that difficult to find; it is more difficult with those stories that are not told or those who feel that they cannot tell a story from their own lives.
I myself was a quiet child, it is written in notes given by the teacher at school. It did not seem like it was a problem. I had no traumatic events that made me quiet, I just didn’t dare break the sound wall. It was quite natural that someone in a class did not say much, the orality was assessed during tests, when we had learned German grammar (first we learned English and then German as second languages) and where in the Norway one used thick L in the dialect. Today there is a focus on democracy and citizenship with a strong emphasis on freedom of speech, those who write, talk, shout and scream verbal statements are noticed.
The silence is an element of folk tales, like as the Norwegian folk tale 12 wild ducks. Here the female protagonist is forced not to utter words, and neither cry nor laugh to save her brothers, this silence she must hold for several years until the transformed brothers are made human again. In several folk tales there is a threat, characters are forced to silence, telling is often associated with the death penalty. This is a motive that extends far back, that telling, or uttering can result in death. In other words, it is not an element that belongs only to modern times. This underlines that sharing stories, when someone tell their stories it might have consequences.
If I continue in the fictional world, the character Jude in the novel A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara also illustrates the pain of telling, his story has become a mummified interior, a desert one cannot bear to enter, there are no oases there. Every time someone asks him where he comes from, who his parents were, he makes turns to avoid answering, he can’t bear to be reminded and he can’t bear to communicate. Jude limps, he is self-harming and has physical pain as a result of stories he does not want to tell. Jude has grown up with rejection and mistreatment. Then maybe it is also the case that we want to be spared from hearing about it, it might be just as well that he is mute because the listener, the one who receives the story might take over the traumas. Furthermore, he may not want anyone to define him based on the stories he can no longer relate to.
Jude is a character in the fictional universe, but points to real problems with storytelling. Telling is about writing oneself into and to position oneself in the world. There are many stories that are told every day, because people meet and share experiences. But there are probably many more stories that are not told, which are affected by multiple censorship, stories related to shame, humiliation and painful events. We want to hear successful stories because they build us up, we want to listen to those who overcome obstacles and won, we want to hear about Ashlad (a character in Norwegian folk tales) who went from poverty and ashes and became a part-time king. This is the prototype of a structure that is constantly repeated through various media and word of mouth.
Maybe not all stories should be told. Some stories must die out, like it is important to forget, because only then can we remember. At the same time, there are the stories that should absolutely be told because they testify to important human experiences and in that way can lead to change. But what do we do with those who do not want or dare not tell us what happened once? These stories should also help creating a future.