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Ethics in Storytelling (No 1) - Words in Flow

Ethics in personal storytelling, like in most areas, is complex and tricky.  In this series of blog posts (which at this point are just a blink in my eye, not planned, let alone written), I want to explore several aspects of storytelling ethics.

Personal storytelling does not have the same ethical guidelines that usually exist between a professional service provider and a client. In a professional setting there are often clear rules and boundaries, with grey areas around the edges.  For example, as a lawyer I was bound by a code of confidentiality, but I was allowed to talk about cases/clients so long as they were not identifiable, (which of course has its own dangers).

Ethics in personal storytelling there is not a clear middle and lots of ambiguity round the edges. Ethics in storytelling seems to me to be just one big ambiguous amorphous mess and we make up the rules.

In memoir writing, which is akin to personal storytelling, every general memoir writing book has a chapter dedicated to the question of ethical questions.  And it seems that every memoir writer has their own set of rules.

So we can apply a lot of the ideas from ethics in memoir to ethics in oral storytelling, but not all. 

Even though we can now record orally told stories very easily, an oral story has a different, possibly lower standard of ethics than the written word, because when we talk words  fall out of us, in flow, without being carefully curated and specifically placed.  We tell from pictures not words, and the words are not set in concrete like the printed word is.

There must be some room within oral ethics, that allows and forgives us for the imperfect nature of talking, that knows we can says things without realising their impact and we can be swept away in the moment and say things we don’t mean; a slip of the tongue is all too possible. That is indeed the thing we love about oral telling, it is not perfect, it is not the same every time and it is iterative and responsive to the audience.

But this does not mean storytelling is without ethical considerations.   

So that is my first notion, and enough for Post One in this series of posts on Ethics.  (And I will try to make this series consistent, unlike the post I wrote in December entitled Storytelling Tip No 1, that sits alone, still without sisters or brothers, a testament to a messy blogger.)

And I'd love to hear your thoughts on ethics in personal storyteling... leave a comment below.

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