Storytelling takes listeners on a journey of transformation. The journey is a progression that reveals a change and the unexpected. Story has logic and structure, but more than anything else story is the transfer of emotion. Story makes us feel something. It changes our state. The TED Talk below by Joseph Kim tells the evocative story of his life in North Korea. It's a moving story and a presentation well worth watching.
Painting images with your words
Storytelling is visual, but the visuals can be created with one's words. Projecting a powerful image for people to see—with their eyes and their hearts—does not necessarily require a projector. Joseph Kim's presentation is a good example of that. The beginning of his talk has necessary bits of exposition, but his narrative wastes no time in bringing us in and making us feel something:
"Hunger is humiliation. Hunger is hopelessness. For a hungry child, politics and freedom are not even thought of. On my ninth birthday, my parents couldn't give me any food to eat. But even as a child, I could feel the heaviness in their hearts."In the beginning we hear of Joseph's father dying of starvation, where it is implied that though starving himself, the father gave up what little food he had to his children. Later in Joseph's narrative this deeply painful event is linked with the incident at the dinner table in America years later. An incident that would be an epiphany and an awakening for him, an awakening that leads to yet another new direction:
"But one day, I came home and my foster mother had made chicken wings for dinner. And during dinner, I wanted to have one more wing, but I realized there were not enough for everyone, so I decided against it. When I looked down at my plate, I saw the last chicken wing, that my foster father had given me his. I was so happy. I looked at him sitting next to me. He just looked back at me very warmly, but said no words. Suddenly I remembered my biological father. My foster father's small act of love reminded me of my father, who would love to share his food with me when he was hungry, even if he was starving. I felt so suffocated that I had so much food in America, yet my father died of starvation."
Most people are unable to watch this talk without tearing up. It's hard. Loss and separation—especially from one's own mother or father— are the most painful elements of life, a type of pain to which most people can relate. This is Joseph's story, and it's one that in some ways is just beginning. In the end, he leaves us with a clear message: the smallest action of compassion can make an enormous difference.
"My foster father didn't intend to change my life. In the same way, you may also change someone's life with even the smallest act of love. A piece of bread can satisfy your hunger, and having the hope will bring you bread to keep you alive. ...your act of love and caring can also save another Joseph's life and change thousands of other Josephs who are still having hope to survive."