The Power of Storytelling
I recently got to finally reading a book that has been cooped up in my room for a little while, Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. It does not have the most modern type of cover or design so it might not be the first book one would pick if a couple of them were to be laid out. However, the cover image is that of a black horse, which indeed caught my attention, revealing my love for animals.
Black Beauty is an 1877 novel that Anna Sewell composed during the last few years of her life. It became an immediate best-seller with Sewell passing on just five months after its publication.
Anna began learning about horses after she was unable to walk at the age of 14 due to an injury, her dependence on horse-drawn transportation fostered her respect for horses. The book is about the story of a horse’s life in the form of an autobiography describing the world through the eyes of the horse.
Reading on the kind of impact it had (and still has) on society made me think of how important the power of storytelling is. The novel serves that purpose of inducing kindness, sympathy, and an understanding treatment of horses. Anna’s sympathetic portrayal of the plight of working animals led to a vast outpouring of concern for animal welfare and it is part of what led to the abolition of some forms of cruel treatment to animals. Anthropomorphism is the style used in narration of the story.
Stories help to stimulate our senses and involve us emotionally and intellectually. A judicious use of emotion for a strategic purpose can trigger an audience’s emotions, moreover, knowing how much emotion to show is a fine art. Storytelling is not just for TED speakers, creative directors or geniuses in business.
Great leaders also recognise that human connections need to go before concepts and strategies: connect first with your prospects, your audiences- then get down to business. As children, we learnt though being told bedtimes stories, fairy tales and hearing family stories. When leaders use storytelling, (coupled mostly with a good style of how they will pass it to their audience, the tone they set and the correct usage of semantics), they bring their audiences back to a natural state of primal listening.
With Anna Sewell’s use of anthropomorphism in the novel, the publication of the book saw many readers relating to the pain of the victimised horses, they showed sympathy and ultimately wanted to see the introduction of reforms that would improve the well-being of horses. Two years after the release of the novel, one million copies of Black Beauty were in circulation in the United States. In addition, animal rights’ activists would habitually distribute copies of the novel to horse drivers and to people in stables.
The depiction of the “bearing rein” in Black Beauty spurred so much outrage and empathy from readers that its use was not only abolished in Victorian England, but public interest in anti-cruelty legislation in the United States also grew significantly. The arguably detrimental social practices concerning the use of horses in Black Beauty inspired the development of legislation in various states that would condemn such abusive behaviours towards animals.
We can therefore see, not only from Anna Sewell’s book but also in history and present times, that influence and engagement becomes more powerful and real change occurs with the proper conveying of stories; with good stories, people are also moved to action.