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Storytelling and the Butterfly Effect

One of the pleasures of writing is hearing from readers. I recently got an email from a ten year old in Germany who enjoyed one of my books. He’s decided to become a writer so he can write Mystery stories too. We’re hammering out his character together, choosing software, the right font.

This post by Elizabeth Svoboda (writer of What Makes a Hero?) looks at how stories can influence behavior. It starts with the story of Elizabeth Cambers, a ninth grader, who was moved by an article titled, ‘Irena Sendler saved 2,500 children from the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942-43.’

Here’s an excerpt:

“She learned about how this unassuming young Polish nurse had created thousands of false identity papers to smuggle Jewish children out of the ghetto. To sneak the children past Nazi guards, Sendler hid them under piles of potatoes and loaded them into gunny sacks. She also wrote out lists of the children’s names and buried them in jars, intending to dig them up again after the war so she could tell them their real identities.

Imagining herself in the young nurse’s position, Megan could appreciate just how difficult her life-threatening choices must have been. She was so moved by Sendler’s gumption and selflessness that she, Elizabeth, and two other friends wrote a play about Sendler. They called it Life in a Jar and performed it at schools and theatres. As word got out, the students’ quest to share what Sendler had done appeared on CNN, NPR, and the Today Show. The power of Sendler’s story had turned the project into something much bigger than the girls expected.”

Reading Svoboda’s article, I was struck by the compelling argument that stories are like a rail that we can ride to a new place, an unexpected place. It’s almost as if storytelling and the Butterfly Effect are the same thing. The Butterfly Effect is the scientific theory (part of the Chaos Theory) that a butterfly’s flapping wings can impact weather patterns across the world.

Just like the butterfly’s wings, the stories we tell are important. They go down gently on paper and move people. Then, sometimes, they change the world.