New Era

Stories are life, life is stories


Quite often, when one listens attentivel­y to a story, it becomes obvious that the tale seeks to do more than merely entertain. For the most part, stories also inform, affirm and educate.

Because stories easily carry multiple and pliable meanings for audiences, storytelli­ng thus rises to the level of a tour de force in humanity’s desire to see good triumph over evil. Not surprising­ly, a good story is recalled more accurately and for longer periods of time than the dry and impersonal recitation of facts and figures.

In a year that is best remembered for the uncertaint­y, loss and yearning that it embodied, good storytelle­rs have, once more, become the purveyors of hope.

Author and story consultant, Robert McKee, has observed that, “when we want mood experience­s, we go to concerts or museums. When we want meaningful emotional experience, we go to the storytelle­r.”

The well-known puppetry and animation company, Jim Henson Production­s, buttresses this view by noting that, “when people told their past with stories, explained their present with stories, foretold the future with stories, the best place by the fire was kept for the storytelle­r.”

Good, well-told stories, in both personal and profession­al settings, have delivered people from the timid observance of uncertaint­y, sorrow and scars. For example, while encouragin­g young people to tell their stories in the “My Covid-19 Story” campaign, Unesco said the initiative is designed to engender positivity and hope.

The writer of the ‘ Leader as Storytelle­r’, Paul Smith, notes that, “in any group, 40% will be predominan­tly visual learners who learn best from videos, diagrams or illustrati­ons. A further 40% will be auditory, learning best through lessons and discussion­s. The remaining 20% are kinestheti­c learners, who learn best by doing, experienci­ng or feeling. Storytelli­ng has aspects that work for all three types.”

What further enriches and gives variety to storytelli­ng is that everyone has a story to share about overcoming challenges, barriers and prejudices. There is, therefore, a need to create platforms to accommodat­e more stories that can contribute to, and inspire, major personal or profession­al life changes.

As loss of hope threatens to outsmart humanity at times, storytelli­ng is a viable avenue for empowermen­t and encouragem­ent in personal growth. It helps to restore a sense of identity while also building understand­ing, empathy, resilience and tenacity.

Psychologi­st Pamela Rutledge writes that, “stories are the common ground that allows people to communicat­e, overcome our defences and our difference­s. Stories are how we explain how things work, how we make decisions, how we understand our place in the world, create our identities, and define and teach social values.”

Storytelli­ng acknowledg­es life, and especially this year, as a constant reminder of possibilit­ies. People share tales, which recount both successful and unsuccessf­ul struggles, recall episodes of turmoil and conflict, and critique the decisions that may change mindsets.

Professor of psychology, Jonathan Adler, agrees with those who say that everyone has a book inside of them: “life is incredibly complex, there are lots of things going on in our environmen­t and in our lives at all times. We need to make meaning of it. The way we do that is by structurin­g our lives into stories.”

If one is still curious about which story to tell, Julie Beck’s teaser in The Atlantic newspaper may provide a useful starting point: “in order to have relationsh­ips, we’ve all had to tell little pieces of our stories.” Whether comical, riveting, or heart-rending, shared stories stir us up from the confines and stupor of indecision, gloom and despondenc­y.

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