Stories We Were Told

Do you remember the stories you were told when you where a child? Do you remember the kingdoms and brave heroes? Do you remember the talking animals and curious children and mysterious wonders? These stories challenged our imagination, forced us to see the world through different eyes and gave us a lesson. We closed yesterday with “The Zephyr and the Dandelion,” a fable that shared a few vows to live kindly from Moral Vignette. Fables are a type of folklore, which is today’s topic of exploration.

Every culture has its own indelible way to share its history and customs and values, through oral storytelling, songs, narrative art and literature. These messages are passed down from generation to generation, all too often by unknown authors. Folklore is a living entity that represents a way of being for a group of people…for those from the same region, or shares the same beliefs…to grow with each retelling.

Folktales are a common type of folklore. They focus on a characteristic, such as gallantry or curiosity or justice, in order to inspire that behavior in their audience. Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm, also known as the Brothers Grimm, were collectors, writers and publishers of German folktales. Many of the stories that we cherish today have been reimagined from their collection. They are known for over two-hundred tales, but their most well-known are “Snow White,” “Rapunzel,” “Hansel and Gretel,” and “Sleeping Beauty.” These stories foster wonder of the conflict between good verses evil, challenge us to not fear the unknown and teach us courage is rewarded. These stories are prevalent across every culture, from the Buddhist tales of India, to African lore, and they can enrich us all.

Fables are a simplistic folklore, usually including animals with human qualities to teach a lesson, such as tolerance or empathy or patience. A Greek slave during fifth century BC, named Aesop, is accredited for the first fables. These include the “Lion and the Mouse” that teaches that all have a purpose, “The Tortoise and the Hare” that teaches persistence prevails, and “The Wind and the Sun” that teaches great force is not needed for great change. Buddhist and Hindu fables have also influenced these retellings.

There are also fairy tales that tell of fantastical creatures, and take place in make-believe worlds, where the protagonist faces great strife to overcome evil. In seventeenth century France this subgenre became popularized with the beginning, “once upon a time….” Tall tales use hyperbole with larger than life characters. The American “Wild West” introduced many tall tales that had cowboys physically wrestling the forces of nature, and impossible gun-slinging shootouts between sheriffs and bandits. And also, Greek legends and myths are a folklore that explains the universe’s origins and depicts historical records through heroic deeds.

These folktales, fables, fairy tales, tall tales, myth and legends are like a photograph, a snapshot in time, and through storytelling, depicts how a person may have lived, from that moment in history, embodying the ways of thinking from that culture. It allows us to imagine what life could have been like during the initial telling, as many of them follow the lives of ordinary people, using the backdrop of the “everyday” to teach a lesson.

Folklore is a way of kindness, as it allows us to reflect on the thoughts and lessons of people who came long before us, who may have faced similar hardships as we do today. And they answered them with their most important values. We can benefit from these tales, by learning from these values to become, hopefully, better versions of ourselves.

Think about what you learned from the stories when you were young. How have those lessons changed who you are today? Have they inspired your creativity, fueled your ambition, and strengthened a virtue that has allowed you to succeed? Respect the personal growth behind the stories you are told, for it is a way of being kind.