Storytelling Saves Lives

Some of us as children read A Thousand and One Nights, also knows as The Arabian Nights. The story of Aladdin and the magic lamp, Ali Baba, and many others – came from this wonderful and eternal collection of tales.  Stories that repeat themselves (yes, they are memes!) time and again, and never get old.

But few of us remember the frame around the story. Fear not, I’m here to remind you. It is this part of the tales that moves me the most.

In the beginning of the tales, the overarching story is told, of how a great sultan (king) discovered that his wife was unfaithful. In his rage and to the horror of his people, he not only had her executed, but he decided, that each night he would marry a different maiden, and in the morning have her put to death. Talk about a major axe to grind.

Maiden after maiden were sent to their deaths, and soon there were few young women left in the kingdom. The vizier (prime minister) had two teenage daughters: Scheherezade and Dunyazade (let’s call them “S” and “D” for short.) S, was the eldest, and was renowned for her cleverness and storytelling skill. She hatched a plan. She begged her father to let her be the next girl to marry the sultan. As there were virtually no young women left, he had little choice but to agree. Just before her marriage, S told D:  “Before I’m put to death, you must burst into the room, fling your arms around me and say, ‘Sister, please tell us one more story before you die!’” And so D did exactly that in the sultan’s chambers, and S said to her, “Yes my sister, if it pleases the Sultan.” He thought about it, and said, “Why not? You’ll die anyway.”

So S embarked on a wild and engrossing story. The whole room, including all the sultan’s staff, was enraptured. She had them in the palm of her hand. Deep into the night, just at the climax of the story, S stopped at a cliffhanger and said, “If it please your highness, I will continue the story tomorrow evening.” What could he do? Killing her would mean he would never hear the ending. So he agreed, and the next night she continued. And did it again – stopped at another cliffhanger. And for a thousand nights thereafter she continued the story. By that time, she had produced three sons for the king.

On the thousand and first night, she brought the boys before him, and said, “Your highness, if only for the sake of your sons, spare me my life – and those of all the women in our kingdom.” He saw, he understood, he wept – and so the kingdom was saved.

This story was fiction (or was it?). But the truth of the story is eternal. We should tell our stories. Stories matter. Tell them through videos, through blogs, through performances. Tell them through whatever channel works for you. It’s good for the soul. It keeps us human. And it can save our lives. As a modern example, MTV is teaming up with the band Simple Plan to help save lives through storytelling. #MTVExit