It is no secret that humans love stories. This love affair begins at an early age and continues through our lives. Stories are fun and creative and offer us a break from real life. We might have had the worst day ever, but it at least it didn’t involve zombies… Humankind’s love affair with stories stretches back through the ages and we find evidence of this love of stories mixed in with evidence of our ancient ancestors.
It would be enough that stories can offer a fun escape, but in truth stories serve three very important purposes key to the survival of humanity. That’s right, I’m arguing that stories are essential to our existence.
Stories have always been an useful way to teach us things about ourselves and our world. Teachers, religious leaders, and salespeople all recognize that stories help us remember and connect with the ideas they share. In less settled times and places, stories are key to teaching children what to fear or avoid as well as key survival skills. This is still true today even if the stories are less about avoiding huge reptiles and more about making friends. Stories are also a wonderful way to celebrate and record our past. It is always important to remember where we came from and the people and events that shaped who we are today. However, perhaps the most important lesson that stories teach us is how to be human. Stories teach us empathy by helping us experience the lives and emotions of others. Stories show us how to cope with tragedy and loss and all the other challenges that the world and life throw at us.
As a result of the myriad ways stories teach us, stories also inspire us to do more and to be more. Through the stories of others’ lives we can see examples of worthy and unworthy goals and aspirations as well as the consequences of pursuing them. We can experience distance places and times. We can contemplate tricky ethical questions without the least risk to ourselves or others. We can experience the lives of others to better understand ourselves. All these experiences challenge us to think more deeply about our own motivations and actions.
Stories also unite us. We can connect through stories, because there are many universal stories, archetypes, which cross cultural boundaries. Similarly, we can recognize ourselves and those around us in these stories. Stories provide a common ground where we can connect and bond whether over the campfire or the water cooler. We create community by sharing our stories. Once we have heard the stories of others then they cannot go back to being strangers and these other humans become less “other” and more “us.” Once we understand the stories that shape others’ thinking and being then we are closer to understanding the humans themselves.
Stories are important to us because they teach, they inspire, and they unite. Do you believe that stories are important? Can you think of other reasons why stories are important?
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