For thousands of years, our ancestors gathered around central fires for warmth and sharing stories that were a source of survival, comfort, and entertainment. Through the millennia, storytelling around a central fire filled a powerful human need for companionship and community. Intuitively our ancestors understood that sharing stories keeps us balanced, connected, and emotionally fit.
In more recent times, the Scots created community venues they called a Cèilidh (pronounced “kay-lee” in the Gaelic language). Cèilidhs in modern times are often associated with Highland dancing and Scottish musicians, but in the old days, Cèilidhs were simply about visiting with and socializing with friends. Being invited to 'come round for a wee Cèilidh' meant stopping by for friendship, joyful sharing, and connection. They were a home away from home.
The Central Fire is intended to be such a place. At a time when people all over the world are feeling more and more disconnected, sharing our stories is a tried and true “technology” that can help us reweave our place in the fabric of humanity by filling our souls with stories.
We have created the virtual Central Fire meeting on the first Saturday evening of every month to bring together people from all walks of life to listen to each other’s tales. We hope this venue will spawn live events worldwide, bringing people together for no other reason than to connect heartfully by listening to and telling stories about our life experiences. Each month we will focus on a new theme to guide the sharing.
Join us to listen, and when you’re ready, move closer to the fire to share your treasured tales.
In a recent survey of 20,000 Americans, Cigna Health found that Gen Z and Millennials are lonelier than other generations and that students have higher loneliness scores than retirees. In a more recent study, “36% of all Americans—including 61% of young adults and 51% of mothers with young children—feel ‘serious loneliness.’ Forty-three percent of young adults in our survey reported increases in loneliness since the outbreak of the pandemic. Lonely young adults are even more likely than lonely people generally to lack basic forms of human attention and emotional sustenance. About half of lonely young adults in our survey, for example, reported that no one in the past few weeks had ‘taken more than just a few minutes’ to ask how they were doing in a way that made them feel like the person ‘genuinely cared.’” This is both a societal and public health crisis. Loneliness has the same impact on health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, making it more dangerous than obesity. The cost is high. Loneliness is linked to early mortality and a wide array of serious physical and emotional problems, including depression, anxiety, heart disease, substance abuse, and domestic abuse.
There is an even more insidious trend emerging from the data: between the 1980s and late 2000s, narcissism in college students increased by 30%, while at the same time, empathy for others fell by 40%. How can we build a society when we’re losing the capacity to understand and empathize with the plight of others? Is there a solution staring us in the face that is as old as humankind?
The Positivity Project
Making Caring Common Project: Loneliness in America, http://www.makingcaringcommon.org/
Loneliness has the same impact on health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
When the sun set and the moon began to rise, the fire did more than just warm and protect them from the dangers of the night. It catalyzed reflections on the day's experiences and musings about past times when those among them did something heroic and exceptional. In addition to telling stories for teaching or planning purposes, sharing stories accomplished an even more important task—weaving disparate peoples into a shared community fabric. Lacking electronic wizardry, our ancestors used the most potent story simulator ever invented—the human mind. They discovered they had an internal screen in their heads, only needing the words of a raconteur to set its pictures into motion.
"Going to a Central Fire meeting feels like an adventure where I will discover stories that are important to other people, heartfelt, and often moving. I keep coming back because the Central Fire helps me feel connected, inspired, and closer to other people and myself.”—Dan
“This was a zoom meeting that felt like we were transported to a campfire setting. I was amazed at how quickly people became comfortable enough to open up and share personal details about their lives with people they had just met. I really enjoyed it.”—Rod
“It was my first Central Fire, and although I did not contribute a story, I found the experience of hearing such rich, warm stories from around the world an emotionally rewarding experience. It was a delightful hour, and I would highly recommend it.”–Laura
“The Central Fire ignited a flame in my heart! A truly diverse, professional, and safe forum for sharing memorable stories that just seem to hit the right central spot! Thank you, Richard and Gavin for sharing a gift that is simplicity at its best with a lasting impact and long reach. Looking forward to more.”—Clare
“I look forward to hearing stories and telling stories each month with Rick Stone at the Central Fire. I've always believed a good story can show someone a different way to see old things in a new way.”—Enid
“I loved being with everyone and sharing stories. I think it's a lovely idea and I really enjoyed it. I am grateful for every opportunity in life to connect with others on a deep level.”—Ruth in the UK
“My participation in the Central Fire has led to two major changes in myself. The first was to realize that my parents did an intentional job of sheltering their six children from ever getting to know their parents, and with conversations with my brothers, this was consistent. Thus, I have become much more intentional in finding out the stories of my ancestors. The second is that a good story can have a greater impact on others than I have ever thought, even though Rick and his book have been pounding this into me for years.”—Dan
“Being in the circle of the Central Fire was a visceral reminder of the power of storytelling. In the circle, we could feel our humanity as we related to the humor and pathos of one another’s lives.”—Janice
“The Central Fire shows us that we are more alike than different. Our histories shape our beliefs and values.”—Sandra
“Thanks again for facilitating this lovely storytelling event last night. It really left me feeling warm, as though I had actually sat around a fire. Really nice!”—Elke
“The Central Fire experience is unique. It presents an opportunity to experience a connection to other people's life experiences and wisdom merely from listening to them share their story in an open non-invasive forum.”—Mark
“Thank you for a delightful gathering around the virtual Central Fire. The environment for meaningful sharing was further enhanced by the passion, entertaining nuance, and wisdom in the stories. Ahead of the evening, I sketched out some ideas about the humble, courageous, and compassionate life of my paternal grandfather. I confidently raised my hand and shared an unscripted story that generated smiles and positive ZOOM reactions.”—Steve
“I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to others' experiences as they are so different from mine. These stories inspire me to learn more, explore more, and be more.”—Debbie
“Can strangers share something moving, funny, vulnerable, memorable, and go on to tell others what was shared? Can people feel less isolated and more connected, whether they share or just listen? Will the world be less of a mess if we connect with stories? With The Central Fire, the answers to all these are YES!”—Naomi
“The Central Fire is a journey filled with discovery about each other’s lives, and it is guided through the power of storytelling. I feel it shows the beginning of the rise of the transformational economy.” —Matthew
The earliest storytellers, no doubt, shared awe-filled tales as the characters of their stories confronted life’s mysteries, moral dilemmas, and life-threatening challenges. They were bursting with all the action of comic superheroes as hunters courageously subdued dangerous beasts ten times their size. Perhaps most importantly, they were laced with wisdom about what it means to live in harmony with others and tread respectfully on this planet. They also connected people to the mystery of the invisible realms of our universe. Is it any wonder ancient people found delight in these stories? We, contemporary humans, aren’t much different, needing more than ever to gather to share our stories, to learn from the journeys of others, and to tell our tales of heroism in the face of moral and physical challenges.
Our world requires now, more than ever, a potent medicine to re-enchant our lives. We must restore and re-story ourselves, consciously building story into our everyday living. By gathering around a central fire, metaphorical or real, we can begin again to hear ourselves and start listening more deeply to each other’s stories to build a more durable source of meaning, personal fulfillment, and community.
We invite you to create your own Central Fire in your home, in your community center, in your place of worship, your school, or where you work. You’ll find resources here to help you every step of the way, including dozens of guiding questions and themes that you can use. You’ll also be able to connect with and learn from others from around the world who have embarked on a similar journey to rebuild authentic connections in their communities.
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