Why Stories?

We tell stories to share what matters, to try to make sense of what doesn’t, and to connect to others.  

Here’s the problem: stories have the power to shape the way we see the world. So unless we pause, once in awhile, and ask “why that story” or “why that story told that way,” we may find ourselves living someone else’s version of who we are.

storytellerBecause stories look different from different angles, we need to make sure we pick our viewpoint, not let some institution or person tell us what’s right.

Stories can have serious practical applications. In some Native American cultures, children are disciplined by story. The elders sit the child down and tell him or her a story about the consequences of bad behavior or the dangers of unthinking actions. “The dog ate my homework,” is also a story with a practical application. How often do we think about that?

Stories get better with time. Why? Most of us don’t think of ourselves as liars, but we want to be heard. Most often we exaggerate because we want our stories to be remembered. For that reason, it’s often worthwhile to pay attention to the stories that get repeated. They’re not so much whoppers as clues to what’s important to that person or family or nation. George Washington never chopped down a cherry tree. Never said, “I cannot tell a lie.” Why, as Americans, do we keep telling that story? And when we stop telling it, what has changed?

Stories have voices. If all our stories are tales of hardship and persecutions, we may not be able to hear anything but bad news. Old hatreds are passed on the same way. 

storytellerStories are philosophical. “Things go better with Coke” is as much a philosophical statement as an advertising slogan. Families do the same thing. “In our family we ______”  fill in that blank. Question is, who decides how to fill in the blank? 

For example, in my family we tell love stories.

  • One is about a grandmother who stopped a railroad for the sake of love—not one or two trains, a whole railroad. 
  • We also have a story of a young girl who waited by the gate for the guy on the white horse. One day, he showed up, white horse and all. 
  • We also have a World War II romance, complete with love letters
  • A Ninteenth Century shipboard romance
  • An even more distance tale of lost love and Viking pirates.  

Listen to those stories long enough and you can spend your whole life waiting to be swept off your feet. The stories we tell can become the scripts we live or try to live. 

Have I made the case for examining our stories?

storytellerAh, yes, but at the same time, we love our stories and our storytellers. Forget the fuss and tell a good one! 

This blog is a place to share as well as ask questions about stories. Got a good one? Post it in the comments.



Filed under Family Stories, Personal Narrative, stories, Why Stories?

6 responses to “Why Stories?

  1. Gail Storey

    Jerry, I appreciated your post on “Why Stories?” so much. I’ve thought about the question a lot, especially in regard to family myths and why certain people seem stuck in certain roles as characters in the family myths. It deepens my responsibility as a writer working on a memoir (the operative metaphor being my hike of the Pacific Crest Trail), to widen individual perspective and find the universal truth.

  2. Stories are memories, our personal scrapbook of beliefs about how events played out in our lives. The more I learn about how the brain works, the more I see that memories are more OUR truth, than a general, just one, kind of truth. They and the stories that arise from them are just our personal take on moments of our lives, which sort of explains why each child in a family will remember the same occasion differently. I am often amazed at how my sister and brother and I will recall a family event in ways so different that they seem unrelated, yet they are each an aspect of the collage that portrays “our family.” Fascinating topic —

  3. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I might need to make up some new stories of my own—just so that I can begin to think of myself in a new light and propel myself into a new phase of being.

    I suppose this is called “reinventing” yourself, and I’m not proposing jettisoning my entire identity: just opening up a new road for myself to travel on.

    Thanks for all the ideas!

  4. Jerrie, I love the idea of telling stories, and picking a viewpoint. I read this and have thought about it a lot. As well, I like Gail, Rosemary and Laurel’s comments; Laurel, I too have “reinvented” myself over the years. I’m not done yet, but the stories that I tell myself seem to make a lot of difference. As well, momentary choices of emotions seem to be an important aspect. This is worth the discussion; thanks for bringing it up Jerrie.

  5. I just ran into your blog on Boulder Media Women, and it was the perfect mini-break. I was battling some writer’s block for an obituary I’m writing for the small paper I work for, and sometimes the best way to get “un-stuck” is to look at the seemingly obvious question: why tell stories, and what stories do we want to tell?

  6. Pingback: Family History: Why Every Girl Needs A Horse | Jerrie Hurd Takes Family History Seriously . . .

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