Stories Start When We Are Young
Stories allow us to understand each other. They provide context for our lives. And they help us to make sense of the world around us.
When we’re young, our parents tell stories to us when they want to entertain us or teach us something new. Nowadays, most children grow up hearing their own stories repeatedly from their parents and grandparents, at bedtime or on weekends while watching TV.
In some cultures, like those of Africa and Asia, stories are considered sacred. The stories are passed down by word of mouth from generation to generation. Stories are also important in many indigenous American tribes. To be fact-checked, I heard that some Native Americans believe that if you don't hear the same story three times in a row, then it's not true. So maybe if you've heard the same story only once, the chances are it isn't 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 life's larger meaning.
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 being captured by the Cyclops Polyphemos. Then, he got trapped by many six-headed monsters called the Sirens, who tried to hypnotize him with their beautiful singing. After escaping the Sirens, he landed on an island filled with beautiful women who hung around a well all day, and every night they'd turn into winged vampires intent on biting his head off. Finally, he got lost on the 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 at 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 give meaning to our lives. We don't just live from day to day in a disjointed, chaotic existence. We don't just suffer through 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 our lives structure by creating narratives. These narratives don't have to be based on facts. They don't need to be real. And they don't need to be true. In fact, the more blatant they are, the more widely believed they are likely to be!
But whether or not they're true doesn't matter. What matters is that they provide meaning and purpose to our lives. They shape our thoughts. They guide our actions. We all have a narrative that we either consciously or unconsciously use to understand and make sense of the world around us. And that narrative can be very empowering or very destructive.
The narrative we're exposed to as children can especially 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 meaning-making creatures. That is, we have a basic need to understand the world and our place in it. We attempt to answer three primary questions concerning our lives: Who am I? What is this world I live in? And where am I going?
These questions manifest themselves in a variety of ways: How should I act? What does it mean to be human? What happens when we die? Who has the right to rule me? And so on. The need for answers to these questions is part of what drives us as people.
Even when we disagree on the answers, the fact that we're asking the questions in the first place brings us together. We all share in the questioning. Oftentimes, our attempts at answering these questions are stories: “This is who I am,” “This is where I came from,” or “This is where I'm going.” And how we narrate our lives to ourselves and others, and the importance we ascribe to those narratives, reveal a lot about who we are at the core.
When you tell a story, you're telling us, your audience, your own personal narrative–how you understand your place in this world, how you came to be the person you are today, and where you're going in the future. This is something we all do all the time. We may not do it consciously or formally, but we're always telling ourselves and others stories about ourselves–narratives. And whether those narratives are true or false doesn't really matter. It's the meaning we ascribe to them that's important. The narrative you've chosen to believe about yourself, your past, your present, and your future matters because you've chosen to believe it does.
And that is the power of the 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 those stories belong to us, and some of them do not.
Yet, the telling of stories is what binds the world together. Through stories comes understanding. Through understanding comes empathy, and with empathy comes progression.
The world is filled with 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 containing stories, and those books are filled with words. Why? Because stories help us understand one another and the world around us, understanding is the key to acceptance.
How can one hate something if one understands it? How can one persecute something if one understands it? How can one hurt something if one understands it? The answer: one cannot. Understanding is the key to harmony. This is why stories are so important. This is why it's important to tell you.
The world is filled with many different people, and each person has a different story to tell.
How Storytelling Affects the Brain
Stories fire up the parts of our brain responsible for reasoning, speech, and logic and the parts that are in charge of intuition, emotion, and creativity—the parts necessary to actually “live” to experience existence. That's why when we tell stories about events in our lives, we often find ourselves feeling and even experiencing them in a much more vivid way.
Stories create a bond between people: people enjoy sharing their stories with others.
Stories can change the way people think about things and can influence people to take different actions in their lives. Just think of how many different stories you've heard that has changed the way you think or act!
Stories can be a great escape from reality. When you find yourself getting bored or disappointed by reality, pick up a book and enter a world of fantasy and imagination.
Stories can make the monotony of everyday life more bearable.
Stories teach us lessons and ideas and reveal bits 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 one another. Nothing brings people together like a good story.
How Storytelling Is a Form of Power
Stories are like lenses: they allow you to see the world differently. Stories allow us to make sense of our surroundings and interpret events. Even fictional stories can affect how we view the world: like a drop of dye added to a water pool, 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 also bash in 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 yet fundamental way. Each story makes us just a little bit different than we were before we heard it. Whether it's a fictional story about wizards and dragons or a true story about love and loss, each one leaves its mark on us.
Even the silliest, most mindless stories have an effect on our attitudes and thought processes. If one reads enough stories about heroes, eventually, one will have the urge to don a cape and fight for what's right.
You've all read stories. You know that they can take you anywhere: from the depths of the ocean to the surface of Mars, to the dinosaurs' time, to the rings of Saturn. You've all felt the excitement and tension of a protagonist facing danger, whether realistic or fantastic. You've all experienced the shock of surprise endings. You've all related to characters and empathized with their struggles.
These effects are all genuine and valid.
Stories can give us knowledge about the world and ourselves that we couldn't get any other way. Even if the stories are outright fabrications, they can teach us truths about human nature and how we think. Stories can be great tools for learning.
But, you may be wondering, what about fictional stories? What about pure fantasy? I contend that these are equally valid because they still affect the way we think. Dragons and wizards aren't real, but they give us a glimpse at 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 basis of all cultures. The people that told the best stories were listened to with the most attention and generally survived more often than those who couldn't master the skill.
Even if we don't tell stories, just hearing them changes us.