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.
Because 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.
Stories 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?
Ah, 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.