The Gift of the Story: Learning Resilience Through Movies and Books

Once upon a time

 

In the United States alone, the publishing industry sells over $29.5 billion books yearly. The motion picture industry has grossed over a half-a-trillion dollars in U.S. history alone and these numbers don’t tell the whole story financially, nor does it explain the reason for the popularity of a good story. Stories are not simply entertainment. Stories provide us much more than a way to pass time, the ability to zone out or to get an adrenaline rush. Stories are natural mentors and guides. In order for the message to be useful, the story must be studied, not just experienced.

Let me give you a couple of examples:

The combat vet stood on the stage, extremely drunk as he was trying to make a sale. He had been reeling ever since that horrific battle. His commander made showed he was not the leader the now vet thought he was. What hurt most is he violated his own code of honor and could never forgive himself for that…or so he thought. There came an unexpected group of people – those he once thought were his enemies – helped him to heal. One was a warrior himself, he found self-forgiveness and could be honorable as well. The vet learned to be present and to silence the frantic voice within. He found peace again. He found new sense of purpose. Is this a case study? No. It is from the movie The Last Samurai.

What about a family who was hit with tragedy and the loss of many family members? The father developed PTSD, yet a new crisis actually lead him to his own healing. He met someone who taught him how to face his fears directly, to change the ways he thought, to commit to the journey of healing and to be transformed, even in the midst of new crisis. The father and his only living child found a way to survive and to discover new and positive life, in the midst of loss. Another movie…this time an animated children’s blockbuster movie Finding Nemo.

What about a family who was hit with tragedy and the loss of many family members? The father developed PTSD, yet a new crisis actually lead him to his own healing. He met someone who taught him how to face his fears directly, to change the ways he thought, to commit to the journey of healing and to be transformed, even in the midst of new crisis. The father and his only living child found a way to survive and to discover new and positive life, in the midst of loss. Another movie…this time an animated children’s blockbuster movie Finding Nemo.
All full-length children’s movies and the majority of blockbuster movies, as well as those nominated for Golden Globes, SAG award and Oscars are built on the heroic journey framework. In fact, throughout history we have found this same framework playing out in the sacred texts of all religious traditions as well as the primary cultural stories around the world.

Movies and stories are the way to help us learn resilience, but not without guidance. As a society, we are inundated with stories even now, but it can be used as mind-numbing entertainment and not the valuable resource it can be. Throughout history, leaders of communities and families have used stories to teach skills, life lessons and eventually, self-awareness. As individuals learn the most common aspects of making it through life challenges – even trauma – a story about resilience acts as a “pacer” or even mirror for their own story and giving hope as a result.

Another example, the recent award nominated movie “Wild” is a true story about Cheryl Strayed and played beautifully by Reese Witherspoon. As Strayed (Witherspoon) faced a deep and painful loss, she became unable to pull out of her self-destructive spiral. Serendipitously she starts off on a 1,100 mile hike across the Pacific Crest Trail. Never a serious hiker, her decision appears dangerous and reckless. As she faces the trials, challenges, doubts and fears, they provide a perfect metaphor of her emotional journey. The scenery of the movie provides the external equivalent of her emotional winter, the desert time, the wilderness wanderings as well as the time she times she wants to quit her journey. The emotional exhaustion turns into finding the strength to keep going, one small step at a time when every step is an act of great courage.
When you think about your own favorite stories in the form of books or movies, what comes to mind? As you consider that story, let’s look at a few questions that might show the depth that story brought you.

As you that story, if you were to explain the story to another person using only five sentences and no more, how would you describe it?

Was there a particular character that captured your attention in that story?

What was it about that character that captured your attention?

What were the strengths of that character? Areas of weakness?

How did that character change over the course of the story? What lessons did they learn?

Was there a favorite scene in the story? Describe it in as much detail as you can recall.

What challenge did that character face?

Who/what helped them to meet that challenge? (i.e. a belief, a person, medication, group support, etc.)

Was there anything which threatened to stop/delay or sabotage that character’s progress on their journey? Did that provide anything useful to your character – eventually? How?

How did they transcend that challenge or come to a place of acceptance? Or did they?

Was any other character transformed or changed by what your character did or did not do?

In your own life, do you resonate with anything with the story you chose?

In what way do you relate?

The questions can be limitless, depending on the ability of observation. With younger children, obviously the questions would be adapted for their ability…but having children really experience the story fully, begins to provide a resilient framework, because a story which shows ineffective choices can still teach.

If you would like to join The Omnibus Center in a movie discussion experience, all you need is a computer, a webcam and the desire to discuss. Check out www.theomnibuscenter.org and go to the Pay It Forward Series and see which movie we will be discussing and when. Registration is required…no payment necessary. Learn how to use stories to help people see the resilience and lessons in stories. One hundred percent of all children’s full-length animated movies and 95% or more of the award nominated movies are based on the heroic framework.