Suzuki Elders have benefitted from interactions with youth in our Elders, Environment, and Youth Forum; participation in marches, rallies, conferences, and workshops; creation of the informational video described below, improvement of our social media platforms; retreats on the theme “Elders and Youth — Listening to Each Other”; and workshops on intergenerational storytelling. This work was described by Ellen Moyer in the August 20, 2015 issue of Huffington Post entitled, Bridging the Geezer-Young Person Gap to Drive Climate Change Solutions.
Intergenerational Story Project
What role is Nature playing in your life? It’s been very important in ours.
We are older people who work with the David Suzuki Foundation as “Suzuki Elders.” We have written short stories that are based on our memories around the role Nature has played in our lives, what has touched our hearts and how Nature has changed during our lifetimes.
When people of any age value Nature, they are more likely to see themselves as its steward. We believe a good story is the best way to get this message across. As Elders with a lot of memories, we feel a responsibility to pass on our experiences.
More than a third of the Suzuki Elders have contributed a story, posted under the category “Intergenerational Story Project“.
We hope that people who read these stories learn from them and grow in their own appreciation of Nature. We also hope they will write their own stories and share them with others.
The Suzuki Elders have been working with several environmentally-savvy high-school students. Rosemary Wong, Sunny Cui, Aaron Leung and Jessica Lang listened to our stories. They suggested the idea of preparing a YouTube video of interviews about the stories, and took on the job of putting it together. We hope you enjoy it, and read what we have written.
To learn more about how this idea emerged, read the story below.
Prepared by the Suzuki Elders’ Storytelling Group: Neale Adams, Margo Elfert, Diana Ellis, Patricia Grinsteed, Conrad Guelke, Cynthia Lam, and Jeanette Stigger. (Feb, 2013)
Once upon a time there was a group of Elder Environmentalists. They thought they were pretty good at telling stories in their everyday talk with family and friends. One day, another really big time Elder Environmentalist said to them “Hey Elders, you should go out and tell stories about nature. Especially to kids. They need to know how things have changed – and you can tell those stories!”
The Elders looked at one another and thought – “Oh – Ok – sounds good.” But they also thought if they were going to do this, they should learn more about how to be “official” storytellers.” So, they read books about the history of storytelling. They went to a workshop on the meaning of storytelling. They studied storytelling techniques. A few months went by. Guess what? They were so busy learning, that they had stopped telling stories! They were even wondering if anyone would listen to their own simple stories.
Finally one of them said – “hey – we just need to get started on this – it can’t be that hard!” So, they formed their own storytelling group. And, in the comfort of one of their homes, with tea, cookies, and time set aside to listen to and coach one another, – they met to practice telling stories. Feeling slightly awkward at first, they wondered out loud – “What’s our topic?” And asked again “WHY we are doing this anyway?” It didn’t take long to remember they wanted to talk about themselves and nature…..and wanted the stories to help people think about the same. “Ok,” they agreed, “let’s keep meeting – and take turns writing and telling our stories to each other.”
Well – stories popped up like dandelions! Stories about trees, moss, waterfalls, flowers, bears. Stories with a single theme, or many. Stories about being scared in nature, or overwhelmed, or about experiencing nature’s deep comfort. Stories about how nature helped us understand about ourselves. Stories about action we have taken to protect nature. Stories set in South Africa, Britain, Northern British Columbia, China, Massachusetts, West Vancouver.
The Elders discovered how to tell a story well. First, it is ok to tell stories in different ways. Tell it from memory. Read it. Bring pictures – – or play music. Stand up and use your body! And of course, they coached each other to speak UP, to make eye contact with others, to be expressive, and not to go on too long! Five to seven minutes is just right.
The Elders discovered some things about story tone and content: First, everyone listens to a real story that includes the storyteller, so make it personal! Second, every story needs a reason to be told – a purpose. Third, avoid the trap of going on about “the good old days.” Describing past experiences is one thing, ranting about how the world would be better off if only we all stopped doing X or Y often leads to a negative and blaming discussion.
The Elders learned about silence – and lively discussion. When the story ended, there was always a short period of silence. “What’s going on at that moment?” they wondered, “Does the storytelling session end then?” The answer was NO! Within a few minutes the babble would start! Listeners asked questions, made comparisons and expressed appreciation. The Elders learned that posing a couple of guiding questions helped the discussion. These are the questions:
1. What are your feelings about this story you just heard?
2. What did you learn from this story? (about the story, about the teller, about yourself?)
3. What similar stories or reflections emerge for you after listening to this story?
OK before this story about storytelling ends, we, the Elders, have THREE THINGS to tell you.
First Thing – to any of you wanting to start a storytelling group – we had fun! It wasn’t just another meeting. We learned that telling our stories revealed ourselves to one another, and sometimes even to ourselves! In doing this, we built trust and community between ourselves – and enjoyed the process. Tea, cookies and sitting around someone’s front room helped.
Second Thing – about taking stories out to others – let’s say, another group of elders, or a classroom of kids, or our own grandchildren. We learned that telling the story was a great beginning – and was just that – the beginning! When the story ends, let those silent moments happen. Questions and discussion always bubble up, and providing the guiding questions helps listeners get to their own place of “Aha” learning.
Third thing – who are the stories for? Our stories began as a way for we Elders to tell about ourselves in nature. In telling them, the door was opened for others to jump into the stories with us. Which they always did.
And now – – would you like to hear a story? We have this one about catching tadpoles……..or would you like that one about demonstrations….?