Sunday was Holocaust Memorial Day, a day for everyone to remember the millions of people murdered by the Nazis, and in genocides since in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.
Most of us have some awareness of the holocaust and/or other genocides and have heard the numbers involved. To take the most obvious example, during World War II, Nazi Germany, aided by its collaborators systematically murdered some six million European Jews, around two-thirds of the entire Jewish population of Europe.
Two weeks ago, by coincidence, I was in Amsterdam. Whilst there, we took the time to visit some of the museums, including the Anne Frank House. Despite my prior knowledge (I’ve studied 20th Century political and social history) I found myself struggling to contain my emotions as I walked around the museum.
Experiencing Anne’s personal story brought home the realities of the holocaust in a way that a hundred dry articles about the scale and the mechanics of murder could not.
It made it real. This was the story of a normal teenager; she might have been my neighbour’s child. A child with a talent (evident in her diary entries), and aspirations to become a journalist or writer. A child, like any other, with dreams.
Her story unfolded through her own words, those of her father (who, miraculously survived his time in Auschwitz) and other contemporaries, including those who had tried to protect the family from the Nazis.
And it was heart-breaking. Anne Frank and her family were found and captured by the Gestapo in 1944. She died in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945, just weeks before the camp was liberated.
Anne Frank’s story is especially powerful, and stories like hers, if enough people hear them, can change the world.
Our own stories might not have the same power as Anne Frank’s, but that doesn’t mean they’re not important and can’t influence behaviour. Indeed, stories of all types provide an important opportunity for people to experience learning. They tap into our natural ability to empathise – and therefore experience a journey that engages the heart, as well as the head.
Stories make learning memorable, they bring information to life and make it real. They can challenge perceptions and inspire us. And they can frame and give shape to learning.
That’s why from case studies, to personal anecdotes, from real stories to fairy tales, we use stories when designing training, and I encourage you to always remember the power they have to deliver an important message and inspire.
I’ll leave you with these wise words from the remarkable Anne Frank:
“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”