Consider this—there are people you know that you’ve never met. Yet you’ve shared moments with them, and been touched by them, in a real way.
You know them through their stories, and story is the beating heart of human experience.
You know these people through biographies you’ve read or perhaps you watched a movie based on their lives. Or you’ve read scriptural accounts. Or maybe you’ve listened to stories passed down through your family.
You may never have come face to face with your great-grandfather but every time your family gets together and Aunt Suzie tells that story about him, and various relatives chip in with their own perspectives, you get to know him. He is kept alive through his story.
Story is the key to identity
Story is at the core of our experience as humans. Story is how we explain to ourselves, and others, who we are and why we’re here. Story helps us recognize our purpose and we can be strengthened and healed by examining and understanding our personal narratives.
In fact, that’s how many branches of psychotherapy work. The therapist helps the client to tell her own story, examine it, recover the missing parts, and question it to discover how the narrative she tells herself affects different aspects of her experience. By changing the story, she opens the door to change in her life.
Story is the key to meaning
We use story to send messages. We use story to capture the peak moments and memories in our lives. But story goes even beyond these important functions. Story is the skin that holds our deepest longings, hopes, and fears. It is through our stories that we find meaning, and the greatest truths are revealed through story.
Facts vs Truth
Facts deal with explanations for what happened. Truth deals with what those events mean and how they relate to our existence, as humans. I’m a fiction writer. I make stuff up and write it down. These are my stories. They are not often based on facts but I try to tell the truth, in a larger sense, in the hopes that my readers will gain important insights into themselves, their experience as humans, and the world we live in.
The Three Fools
One of my favorite folk tales is about a man betrothed to a silly girl. She takes him home to meet the parents and during dinner, they run out of cider. The mother sends the girl down to the cellar to fill the pitcher and she is gone for such a long time that the woman sends her husband down to find out what’s happened to the girl.
After another long moment, the mother goes down to see what’s taking so long. The young man sits at the table by himself until he can no longer stand the suspense. He climbs down into the cellar and sees all three sitting on the steps, sobbing, while the cider runs out all over the floor.
When he asks what the trouble is, the girl explains how she was fetching the cider when she happened to look up and see an axe buried in the ceiling above the cider barrel. And she thought to herself, what if I married my love, and we had a son, and he came down to fetch the cider and the axe fell on him and killed him? How dreadful that would be! So she sat down on the steps to nurse her tears and when her parents came down and she shared the tragic story, they were also overcome with grief.
The man promptly broke off the engagement, telling her he’d be back when he’d traveled the world and found three fools greater than the three of them. For a YouTube video of the complete story, click here. I won’t spoil it for you, except to say that it’s quite an amusing tale.
What’s the point?
My point is that, clearly, this story is fiction. But I’m a worrier, and when I work myself up into a spot of pointless worrying, I think of this story because it reminds me of an important truth about the human condition and helps me let go of the worry.
I do this consciously but most of the time, stories act on us invisibly, helping us remember essential bits of wisdom, reinforcing our values, influencing our decisions and experience as human beings.
Story influences our experience as humans
In short, stories and storytelling are crucial to the survival of our families and our culture. They allow us to connect with people from other places and times. They enable us to live on in the lives of those we love after we are gone, just as those who’ve gone before are with us now. Stories allow us to share deep truths and impart meaning and insight.
Our human experience is deepened and enriched by story in so many ways. Stories are the heart, and they keep it beating.
How does the power of story touch your life? Tell us about it in the comments.