Storytelling is something that’s been talked about for the last several years in business. Rather than talk through all the business jargon, or tell you how imperative it is for your content marketing strategy, I wanted to approach the topic with a more unexpected example to prove that storytelling is truly more than a buzzword, but something quite powerful. But the best stories aren’t the ones that appear for the sake of creating content. They only catch on when the storyteller believes in what they’re telling.
So I tried to think of a story to use as the example of what I’m thinking about and the one that leapt to mind happened to me several years ago. On a trip to Portugal with friends, I was once talked into leaving lovely Lisbon for a day trip to Fatima. My friends had just converted to Catholicism and didn’t want to miss a chance to visit a holy city.
Crap… what am I doing?? Religion and politics are the things you’re supposed to avoid or risk alienating people. I make this same mistake sometimes at parties. Oh well, I don’t have another story in my head right now, so back to Fatima.
I’m not Catholic, so when my friends mentioned the idea of the trip, I didn’t understand what the fuss was all about. It seemed like quite a long departure and would take a big chunk out of our time in Portugal. Then they told me the story.
Apparently Fatima received its fame in the early part of the 20th century when 3 children claimed to have been visited by the Blessed Virgin Mary and were told 3 predictions that would have a major impact on the world. The last of which was only repeated to the pope.
I was instantly intrigued, and so I agreed to hop a bus and make my first pilgrimage. As we began the nausea-inducing rickety ride to Fatima, the scenery reminded me of Italy. It's mountainous and green with patches of yellow ground peeking out through olive trees and short shrubs. Every once in awhile the nondescript remains of a forgotten stone structure would pop up as if to remind us that this suburban sprawl once had a history.
We arrived around noon and were sort of plunked in a station that didn't look like a bus station (at least not the ones in Lisbon). This one was more like a Shop & Go. Right as we stepped off the bus, the thriving industry of the town began with a dripping abundance of Catholic souvenirs. The endless offerings featured a light-me-up Virgin Mary and ape-sized rosaries in three flavors: gold, silver, and glow-in-the-dark.
Immediately upon arrival, my friends wanted to attend the tourist mass (a shortened version so they could get 'em in and get 'em out every hour on the hour with a short break). I declined since I wasn’t Catholic and was also in dire need of a slice of pizza. They were fine with that and slowly marched into the basilica, and sat before the altar in quiet awe. Several minutes passed as I was on my pizza hunt before I noticed mass was actually being held in the more modern glass structure outside. I went back to the basilica and snuck in on tip-toe to keep my shoes from squeaking and let them know.
After the quickie mass, we decided to visit the gift shop just outside in the basilica plaza. Charms of every saint and saint-to-be were tumbling out of the bins that lined the walls. Rosaries made of more expected materials covered the side walls at the back, while seven hundred virgins watched you from the center of the store.
I bought an English Cliff's Notes version of The Apparitions of Fatima which had apparently lost a lot in the translation. It contained many charmingly broken lines like, "Oh poor Pope! We must pray very much from him!” I also bought a postcard of the three wee ones who had witnessed the miracle: Jacinta, Francisco, & Lucia, the last of which had told the story and even had a recent book published.
Let me just say that the photos made them look like three of the creepiest little children I'd ever seen. The photos were older and black and white where everyone looked like they were experiencing immense pain, so it’s not too terribly surprising they didn’t look more adorable.
But truthfully, in the end, I had to admit that it was easy to get pulled into their story. Though this trip didn’t convert me to Catholicism, I was left with a newly formed appreciation. It's a religion that gives people a more theatric way to love God – where faith is not invisible, it's ceramic, hand-painted in China, and available on every street corner for a Euro ninety-five. But to those who believe, as I observed through my friends, it's ultimately received with real authentic reverence and heart.
And as you read about this little town, you become enthralled by the stories that have put it on the map. For someone who is Catholic, a visit to Fatima is one of the most fulfilling and meaningful experiences in the world. But even for someone outside the Catholic church, the stories are magnetic and thrilling and make you want to learn more.
That’s what great stories do. The moment they’re shared they create a stronger connection with everyone who consumes them. Stories have the power to move us and make us believe in what seems impossible. For thousands of years they've been a source of hope and wonder. It’s only relatively recently that we decided to sum them up with a buzzword.
Experts will tell you to focus on the stories your audience wants to hear. But what’s the point of telling stories if we don’t actually believe in them ourselves? No, the stories we tell should really matter to us first. Then it’s only a matter of time before we can get others to join us in the telling.