Sunday, 27 December 2015

Comet Tails and Dust Trails

Day 28 (Monday 28th December 2015)
28 domino tiles make up a standard set. The earliest mention of dominoes
is from the Song dynasty in China. Dominoes were first played in Europe in the 18th century,
it is presumed that the game was brought to Italy by returning Christian missionaries.
The word "domino' is derived from a spotted hood traditionally worn during the Venetian carnival.

For many of us around the world, today is a Bank Holiday to compensate for Boxing day falling on a Saturday. Even if you have not a day off work, I hope that you are enjoying a peaceful period before the start of the New Year and find some calm in which to read today's wonderful blog.

It gives me great pleasure to introduce a new voice to the Advent Series, Siobhan Sheridan, the HR Director of the leading UK charity NSPCC (founded in 1884 and originally called the National Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children). Siobhan commenced her career in a customer-facing role in retail banking and soon found herself responsible for training others. She transferred into HR via Learning & Development. She has an impressive track record, moving from Financial Services into the Public sector, where she was HR Director for Defra and the Department for Work and Pensions, before becoming a recognised leader within the Not For Profit arena. She has a strong moral core and a great sense of humour. Siobhan is active on social media. You can follow her on Twitter, her handle is @SiobhanHRSheri.


Comet tails and dust trails... 

'Will you write me a post?' 

'Comet tails and dust trails is the theme' she said... I was struck by the beautiful melody of the title, my instant slightly magical desire to grab the tail and take a ride across the night sky and perhaps more importantly, by the fact that I know nothing about either comets or their tails.

Somewhere in the far recesses of my memory I recalled that comets often appeared in ancient stories as 'harbingers of doom' or as 'portents of great events.'  Inspired by recent conversations about traditional stories with Geoff Mead and Sue Hollingsworth, I set off in search of where this view of such a beautiful phenomenon might have started in storytelling terms. 

Fairly soon after I began to forage, I was intrigued to stumble across not just any story, but what is claimed to be the world's oldest work of literature: The Epic of Gilgamesh. I won't trouble you here with the telling of the whole tale itself. It is, as you would expect, quite long.

Gilgamesh and the Star of Anu that falls on him
In summary this famous poem, which apparently dates back to 2100 BC, tells the story of Gilgamesh, King of Uruk, and Enkidu, a man created by the gods to stop Gilgamesh from oppressing the people of Uruk. My interest was piqued not only by the poem itself, which I had never heard of, but also by the story around it. 

First discovered in 1853 it caused a bit of a stir due to containing a number of similarities to The Bible, including a Garden, a Man being created from the soil and of a Great Flood. Dating of the oldest fragments originally concluded that it was older than the assumed dating of Genesis at that time. This lead to a great deal of debate about who borrowed what from who and when.

In 1998 a new discovery revealed the first four lines of the poem. At that stage almost 20 percent of the epic was still missing and a further 25 percent of it was so fragmentary that it could be only partially understood. Translations of the poem though were remarkably consistent and had remained so for about 150 years. 

Just this year however, researchers discovered a new tablet which added 20 previously unknown lines. Not a great deal of additional content when one considers the overall length of the poem but they appear to have a relatively significant effect on the story overall.

Tablet discovered in Sulaymaniah Museum in 2015 resulting in a correction in the
order of chapters and completion of some blanks in the Epic of Gilgamesh
The new section added more detailed descriptions of the 'Forest for the Gods' which completely changed the interpretation of what the Forest was like. They reveal the inner thoughts of the protagonists and describe their guilt at some of their actions, previously unknown emotions. They redefine one of the characters as less of a monster and more of a King and finally reveal that two of the key characters had in fact been childhood friends. The story is now different from that which existed before. 

Gilgamesh and his childhood friend Endiku, by modern artist Neil Dalrymple
Stories are everywhere in our lives. We use them to help us to make sense of many things; of ourselves, others, our work, the world and much, much more. We use them at their best to share wisdom, connect communities, inspire teams and to delight our children. Humans have been doing so for many thousands of years. As Ursula Le Guin said 'There have been great societies that did not use the wheel but their have been no societies that did not tell stories' 

And yet they are of course, stories... 

Becoming aware of a new story can change our perspective of an older one. Our brains have the amazing capacity to create complete stories from incomplete fragments without us even knowing that we've done so. Two people having the same experience can create entirely different stories about it. Before long we can start to feel that the stories we have created are in some way 'right.' Stories have the ability to keep us stuck in an old groove, not realising that we are in some way imprisoned by our own fertile imagination. 

And yet, the addition of a few words, the consideration of a motivation we hadn't realised existed, the discovery of a fact we don't know about or the opening of our minds to a different kind of ending, can quickly change everything. And suddenly what we thought we knew isn't quite so clear anymore.

So whilst the stories that we hold dear, about ourselves, our organisations  and the world, deserve to be held dear and honoured. Its helpful perhaps to also be able to be open to holding them lightly, seeing them change or reinterpreting them in order to allow ourselves and others around us to grow and move forward.

Stories are a truly wonderful creative force in the world, offering  a delightful opportunity to look at the world, our organisations and ourselves in new ways.  As Geoff Mead writes in his book 'Coming Home to Story' 

'The magic of storytelling is an essential and timely contribution to the re-enchantment of our disenchanted world'

Christmas Story Telling, A Winter's Tale, 1862
by Sir John Everett Millais
I hope that your Christmas creates the kinds of stories that you will want to tell for many years to come and that you all have a thoroughly magical and enchanted season of goodwill. 

I'm off to grab a hold of the tail of that comet and see where it might take me...

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