Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Irish Eyes


“Tell me a fact and I’ll learn. Tell me the truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.” ( Indian Proverb.)

      Laurie H. Hutzler says, “Storytellers are the most powerful people on earth. They might not be the best paid-- but they are the most powerful. Storytellers have the power to move the human heart-- and there is no greater power on earth.”

      The late Eamon Kelly was, arguably, the greatest storyteller that Ireland ever produced. He has many imitators but no equals. As a storyteller, his vivid and evocative descriptions are unsurpassed. Be it was about an emigrant-laden train gathering speed before fading from view at Countess Bridge or sparks flying when the blacksmith struck red hot iron, nobody could tell it like Eamon. Once, in the Brooklyn Academy, while telling one of his famous stories he mentioned an Irish town and drew a graphic word-picture of emigrants at the station. From the audience he heard; "Divine Jesus" and a man crying. Ever the professional, Eamon instantly changed gear, swung to comedy and in seconds had the homesick exile laughing. Watching him on the stage, the Paps-of-Dana and Dooncorrig Lake almost materialized around you and there was a temptation to look up for the rising ground above Barradov Bridge.
Eamon Kelly with Mattie Lennon

       May God forgive me but I sometimes like to think of myself as a bit of a storyteller even if the view is seldom shared by others. I’ve been in the final of a few storytelling competitions, had a couple of modest wins but I mustn’t be much of a storyteller.

     Because . . . a new study has shown that women view men who are good storytellers as more attractive. On the other hand, this preference for good storytelling skills wasn’t reciprocated. Seemingly men don’t find loquacious women any more attractive than their more reserved counterparts.

      “There has been quite a bit of research on the persuasive power of narratives, but most of that work has just examined how people's attitudes or beliefs change as a result of hearing or reading a story,” According to Melanie C. Green, an author of the study from the University of Buffalo. Dr Green says “We were interested in extending that work to look at the interpersonal consequences of stories — that is, how do people perceive or judge the people who are telling the stories?”

      The team ran a series of experiments to determine the value that men and women placed on good storytelling skills in a potential partner. They recruited 388 undergraduate students in the United States, 55 percent of whom were women, and had them all rate a potential partner’s attractiveness based on their written biography. Along with other characteristics, the biographers either highlighted the individuals as good storytellers, poor storytellers, or did not mention their storytelling skills at all.

      Results showed that, based on their biographies, both male and female respondents considered storytellers as having a higher status than those who couldn’t tell a tale. For women, however, storytelling skills did more than just increase the perceived social status of a man; it also made them more attractive but being a good storyteller did not increase women’s attractiveness.

      Next, the team wanted to see if simply reading a good story written by someone of the opposite sex was enough to inspire attraction. Some stories were vivid and well written while others were less entertaining to read. Interestingly though, the quality of the story did not affect how attractive the writers were perceived to be, suggesting that what makes storytelling so attractive lies not in the actual story, but in its delivery.

      According to the researchers, the reasons for this may have evolutionary roots. “The pattern of results suggests that males who were better storytellers might have been better at gaining resources (food, shelter, etc.), perhaps because they were more likely to assume leadership roles or have higher status in society,” Green theorized. She goes on to say, “From an evolutionary perspective, men might be more focused on other features in a potential mate — for example, cues to health or fertility (such as some features of physical attractiveness.)”

      “Historically, men haven’t considered higher social status as an important trait in the women they find attractive”, the researchers said. And according to Peter Brooks women’s erotic force is, “ . . . something that male storytelling can never quite explain.”

      This may explain why good female storytellers are less often viewed as being especially attractive. What’s more, the researchers said that society may have even trained men to be suspicious of a woman who tries to catch the attention of others, as they might through captivating stories.

      The authors hope the research will make people think about the importance that storytelling plays in relationships. When I contacted Dr Green I pointed out to her, in all humility, that we, the Irish, are the worlds greatest storytellers. She didn’t contradict me but said, “ . . . of course Ireland is renowned for its storytellers -- the land of James Joyce continues the noble tradition today!”

      I didn’t bother telling her that my feeble efforts at storytelling didn’t ever attract a female. (Of course it has been said that all storytelling involves omission; perhaps I don’t leave enough out!)

      So, males, if you want to be a hit with the ladies, whether you believe a storyteller is a person with a good memory who hopes other people don’t or if you agree with Linda Daly that, “Storytellers are individuals who enjoy creating a holiday for the mind,” have a go at being a seanachai. In the words of Eamon Kelly. “Be telling.”


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