Stories Start When We Are Young
Stories enable us to understand each other. They provide context for our lives. And they help us make sense of the world around us.
When we are young, our parents tell us stories when they want to entertain us or teach us something new. Nowadays, most children grow up hearing their own stories over and over again from their parents and grandparents, at bedtime or on weekends while they watch TV.
In some cultures, such as those of Africa and Asia, stories are considered sacred. Stories are passed from generation to generation by word of mouth. Stories are also important in many indigenous American tribes. For fact checking, I have heard that some Native Americans believe that if you do not hear the same story three times in a row, then it is not true. So if you have only heard the same story once, it may not be true either!
Storytelling is an essential part of religious rituals. In some religions, such as Judaism and Christianity, stories are used to teach spiritual lessons. Stories can also serve as metaphors for the greater meaning of life.
For example, one of the most famous stories in all of literature is “The Odyssey.” It tells how Odysseus sailed his boat across the sea to escape capture by the Cyclops Polyphemos. He was then captured by many six-headed monsters, the Sirens, who tried to hypnotize him with their beautiful singing. After escaping the Sirens, he ended up on an island full of beautiful women who hung around a fountain all day and turned into winged vampires every night who tried to bite his head off. Eventually, he got lost at sea for ten years before reaching his home island of Ithaca.
But in modern times, “The Odyssey” has taken on a second meaning. It can also mean any long and confusing struggle back home.
Why We Need More Stories in Order to Understand Our World
The stories we tell ourselves are just one of the many ways we structure and make sense of our lives. We do not just live from day to day in a disjointed, chaotic existence. We do not just suffer each day in an endless stream of work and bills and chores with no reward or meaning at the end of it all.
We give structure to our lives by creating narratives. These narratives do not have to be based on facts. They do not have to be real. Nor do they have to be true. In fact, the more blatant they are, the more likely they are to be believed!
But whether they are true or not does not matter. What matters is that they give our lives meaning and purpose. They shape our thoughts. They guide our actions. We all have a narrative that we use, either consciously or unconsciously, to understand and make sense of the world around us. And that narrative can be very empowering or very destructive.
The narrative we are exposed to as children can particularly impact our lives in many ways. The process of narratives shaping one’s life begins in the cradle!
Why Storytelling Is So Powerful
We human beings are sense-making creatures. That is, we have a fundamental need to understand the world and our place in it. We try to answer three main questions about our lives: Who am I? What is this world in which I live? And where am I going?
These questions manifest themselves in many ways: How am I supposed to behave? What does it mean to be human? What happens when we die? Who has the right to rule over me? And so on. The need for answers to these questions is part of what drives us as human beings.
Even if we disagree about the answers, the fact that we ask the questions at all brings us together. We all share in asking the questions. Often our attempts to answer these questions are stories, “This is who I am,” “This is where I come from,” or “This is where I am going.” And how we tell our lives to ourselves and others, and the meaning we attach to those narratives, reveals much about who we are at our core.
When you tell a story, you are telling us, your audience, your own personal story – how you understand your place in this world, how you became the person you are today, and where you are going in the future. This is something we all do all the time. We may not do it consciously or formally, but we are always telling ourselves and others stories about ourselves- narratives. And whether those narratives are true or false does not really matter. It’s the meaning we ascribe to them that matters. The narrative you choose to believe about yourself, your past, your present, and your future matters because you choose to believe it.
And that is the power of narrative.
Why It Is Important to Tell Your Story
The world is made up of people, and people are surrounded by stories. We are born, we live, we love, we hate, we fight, we lose, we win, we tell stories. Some of these stories belong to us, and some of them do not.
But storytelling is what holds the world together. Through stories comes understanding. Through understanding comes empathy, and with empathy comes progress.
The world is full of stories of all kinds. There are love stories, horror stories, comedies, tragedies, biographies, autobiographies, novels, memoirs, histories, mysteries, fantasies, and so many more. The world is filled with books that contain stories, and those books are filled with words. And why? Because stories help us understand each other and the world around us, and understanding is the key to acceptance.
How can you hate something if you understand it? How can you persecute something if you understand it? How can you hurt something if you understand it? The answer: you can not. Understanding is the key to harmony. That’s why stories are so important. That’s why telling them is so important.
The world is full of many different people, and each person has a different story to tell.
How Storytelling Affects the Brain
Stories stimulate the parts of our brains responsible for thought, language, and logic, and the parts responsible for intuition, emotion, and creativity-the parts necessary to actually “live,” to experience existence. This is why, when we tell stories about events in our lives, we often find that we feel and even experience them much more vividly.
Stories create a bond between people: People enjoy sharing their stories with others.
Stories can change the way people think about things, and they can make people act differently in their lives. Just think of how many different stories you have heard that have changed the way you think or act!
Stories can be a great escape from reality. When you are bored or disillusioned with reality, pick up a book and immerse yourself in a world of fantasy and imagination.
Stories can make the monotony of daily life more bearable.
Stories teach us lessons and ideas and reveal a piece of wisdom. Even the most outlandish fairy tales and fables contain important lessons about life. Even the craziest, most unrealistic stories can contain an important message.
Stories allow us to connect with each other. Stories allow us to see situations from another person’s point of view. Stories allow us to understand each other. Nothing brings people together like a good story.
How Storytelling Is a Form of Power
Stories are like lenses: they make us see the world differently. Stories allow us to make sense of our surroundings and interpret events. Even fictional stories can affect how we see the world: Like a drop of dye added to a pool of water, fictional stories color our interpretations and views of reality.
Stories are like tools: they can be used for good or for ill. Just as a hammer can build a house, it can crack a skull. A story can inspire a listener or hypnotize an unsuspecting victim.
The power of stories, whether told or read, changes us in a small but fundamental way. Every story makes us just a little bit different than we were before we heard it. Whether it’s a fictional tale of wizards and dragons or a true story of love and loss, each leaves its mark on us.
Even the silliest, most mindless stories have an effect on our attitudes and thought processes. If you read enough stories about heroes, you’ll eventually feel the urge to don a cape and fight for what’s right.
You have all read stories before. You know they can take you anywhere from the depths of the ocean to the surface of Mars, to the time of the dinosaurs and the rings of Saturn. You have all felt the excitement and tension of a protagonist facing danger, be it realistic or fantastical. They have all experienced the shock of a surprise ending. You have all related to the characters and empathized with their struggles.
These effects are all real and valid.
Stories can give us knowledge about the world and ourselves that we could not get in any other way. Even when stories are fictional, they can give us truths about human nature and how we think. Stories can be great tools for learning.
But, you might ask, what about fictional stories? What about pure fantasy? I argue that these are equally valid because they still influence the way we think. Dragons and wizards are not real, but they give us a glimpse into what our primitive ancestors thought was real. Even the most far-fetched science fiction story has a tendency to shape our view of the future.
Stories are the foundation of all cultures. The people who told the best stories got the most attention and generally survived more often than those who did not master the skill.
Even if we do not tell stories, just hearing stories changes us.