Why Life Is All About Storytelling

Why Life Is All About Storytelling

It's not just the stuff of fiction.
9
views

I write a lot about stories. This may seem like some weird fixation, but it has more to do with the way I view the world. In one way or another, most human activities are a form of storytelling. Stories help us to understand the world around us, and our place in it.

History

The similarity between the words history and story is pretty obvious, but the linguistic connection goes much deeper. Both history and story are ultimately derived from the Latin word historia, itself a loanword from Greek. In Latin, Historia could be used to refer to both factual accounts of the past and fictional narratives. This passed into French as estorie, and from there it passed into Middle English in the 14th century. There wasn’t a clear distinction between history and story in English until over a century later.

Rather than being an entirely separate discipline, history is largely a form of storytelling, one that attempt to accurately convey the truth about the past. Some of the most valuable information we have about the past is from what people wrote down, i.e. the stories they told. Some of these documents are court records and royal decrees, but even the fiction of the past offers a wealth of information about the ideas and practices of the societies that produced them. History is really about telling or encountering stories to figure out what happened in the past and how it has influenced the world.

Religion

While holy books primarily exist to teach and instruct people about a particular religion, many of them are narrative based. Rather than laying out the basic tenets of the faith concisely, as a Wikipedia article might do, they typically embed their teachings in stories. Even in religions without a clear canon of literature, there are significant stories that form the backbone of adherents’ beliefs.

Storytelling is a key component of religious teaching. In Jewish Rabbinical tradition, there is a type of story called midrash, which speculatively expanded upon the Hebrew scriptures. Midrash wasn’t considered the authoritative interpretation of scripture, but rather a method to offer differing interpretations of ambiguous stories. Each Rabbi could approach the same story, like the creation of Adam and Eve or the Exodus, and write their own midrash to express their perspective of the original story. Storytelling is also very significant in the Christian gospels, which contain both narratives about Jesus and the parables of Jesus. In fact, most of Jesus’ teachings in the gospels are told through parables, rather than sermons.

Politics

The present election season in America, like most others, is all about narrative. It’s not enough to say that unemployment is bad, or that ISIS is dangerous, because people aren’t compelled by statements of the obvious. The public doesn’t need to be told what problems they face, because they have to deal with those problems every day. The politician need only identify what problems people are most concerned, and then decide what caused those problems, what will happen if our problems go unchecked, and how to solve the problem. Bonus points if they can tell us how bad the country will get if we vote for their opponent.

In basic storytelling terms, Act 1 establishes a problem, Act 2 shows the consequences of that problem, and Act 3 resolves the problem. Cause, effect, solution. This is exactly what politicians do whenever they want to win an election. Ultimately, whichever narrative resonates with the most people determines who is elected. Just like storytelling, it helps to come up with an antagonist. For Bernie Sanders, this was the “one-percenters,” for Trump it’s been immigrants and anyone he perceives to be politically correct, judging by Clinton’s recent comments, it seems to be anyone she perceives to be bigoted in her case. Humans are predisposed towards looking for stories, and it’s a candidate’s job to try to make themselves the protagonist of the story that people perceive in the affairs of the their nation.

Memory

As much as storytelling shapes the world around us, it is ultimately in our own minds. We like to think of our memories as an objective record of our past, but our memories can change quite easily. Take deja vu, for instance, a feeling that most people have experienced. In a theory put forward by Robert Efron, deja vu is caused when the brain incorrectly categorizes a present experience as a memory, something he called Dual Processing. You feel as though you’re remembering something even as you experiencing it, creating a bizarre sensation. Memories can be altered in other ways, sometimes simply by being revisited. Replaying an event repeatedly in your head actually makes it less accurate, meaning that some of your most vivid memories are probably somewhat embellished. There’s a fantastic Batman-themed video about this phenomenon that you can find here.

As much as we’re inclined to trust them, memories don’t necessarily give us an accurate image of our past. Memories are really just stories we tell ourselves to make sense of who we are. They’re not a perfect source of information, but we need them to develop an identity, a sense of continuity with our past selves. Stories define who we are and how we understand ourselves, which makes them one of the most important parts of our lives.

There are plenty of other ways stories shape our lives. Court cases are essentially storytelling contests, and the judge or jury decides which is most convincing. We only know about places we’ve never been to because we’ve been told about them. When you first learned to read, I’ll bet it was through picture books. It’s not so easy to separate real life from stories, once you realize that stories have given you just about everything you have.

Cover Image Credit: Albert Bierstadt

Popular Right Now

8 Reasons Why My Dad Is the Most Important Man In My Life

Forever my number one guy.
59739
views

Growing up, there's been one consistent man I can always count on, my father. In any aspect of my life, my dad has always been there, showing me unconditional love and respect every day. No matter what, I know that my dad will always be the most important man in my life for many reasons.

1. He has always been there.

Literally. From the day I was born until today, I have never not been able to count on my dad to be there for me, uplift me and be the best dad he can be.

2. He learned to adapt and suffer through girly trends to make me happy.

I'm sure when my dad was younger and pictured his future, he didn't think about the Barbie pretend pageants, dressing up as a princess, perfecting my pigtails and enduring other countless girly events. My dad never turned me down when I wanted to play a game, no matter what and was always willing to help me pick out cute outfits and do my hair before preschool.

3. He sends the cutest texts.

Random text messages since I have gotten my own cell phone have always come my way from my dad. Those randoms "I love you so much" and "I am so proud of you" never fail to make me smile, and I can always count on my dad for an adorable text message when I'm feeling down.

4. He taught me how to be brave.

When I needed to learn how to swim, he threw me in the pool. When I needed to learn how to ride a bike, he went alongside me and made sure I didn't fall too badly. When I needed to learn how to drive, he was there next to me, making sure I didn't crash.

5. He encourages me to best the best I can be.

My dad sees the best in me, no matter how much I fail. He's always there to support me and turn my failures into successes. He can sit on the phone with me for hours, talking future career stuff and listening to me lay out my future plans and goals. He wants the absolute best for me, and no is never an option, he is always willing to do whatever it takes to get me where I need to be.

6. He gets sentimental way too often, but it's cute.

Whether you're sitting down at the kitchen table, reminiscing about your childhood, or that one song comes on that your dad insists you will dance to together on your wedding day, your dad's emotions often come out in the cutest possible way, forever reminding you how loved you are.


7. He supports you, emotionally and financially.

Need to vent about a guy in your life that isn't treating you well? My dad is there. Need some extra cash to help fund spring break? He's there for that, too.

8. He shows me how I should be treated.

Yes, my dad treats me like a princess, and I don't expect every guy I meet to wait on me hand and foot, but I do expect respect, and that's exactly what my dad showed I deserve. From the way he loves, admires, and respects me, he shows me that there are guys out there who will one day come along and treat me like that. My dad always advises me to not put up with less than I deserve and assures me that the right guy will come along one day.

For these reasons and more, my dad will forever be my No. 1 man. I love you!

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating

From One Nerd To Another

My contemplation of the complexities between different forms of art.

779
views

Aside from reading Guy Harrison's guide to eliminating scientific ignorance called, "At Least Know This: Essential Science to Enhance Your Life" and, "The Breakthrough: Immunotherapy and the Race to Cure Cancer" by Charles Graeber, an informative and emotional historical account explaining the potential use of our own immune systems to cure cancer, I read articles and worked on my own writing in order to keep learning while enjoying my winter break back in December. I also took a trip to the Guggenheim Museum.


I wish I was artistic. Generally, I walk through museums in awe of what artists can do. The colors and dainty details simultaneously inspire me and remind me of what little talent I posses holding a paintbrush. Walking through the Guggenheim was no exception. Most of the pieces are done by Hilma af Klint, a 20th-century Swedish artist expressing her beliefs and curiosity about the universe through her abstract painting. I was mostly at the exhibit to appease my mom (a K - 8th-grade art teacher), but as we continued to look at each piece and read their descriptions, I slowly began to appreciate them and their underlying meanings.


I like writing that integrates symbols, double meanings, and metaphors into its message because I think that the best works of art are the ones that have to be sought after. If the writer simply tells you exactly what they were thinking and how their words should be interpreted, there's no room for imagination. An unpopular opinion in high school was that reading "The Scarlet Letter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne was fun. Well, I thought it was. At the beginning of the book, there's a scene where Hawthorne describes a wild rosebush that sits just outside of the community prison. As you read, you are free to decide whether it's an image of morality, the last taste of freedom and natural beauty for criminals walking toward their doom, or a symbol of the relationship between the Puritans with their prison-like expectations and Hester, the main character, who blossoms into herself throughout the novel. Whichever one you think it is doesn't matter, the point is that the rosebush can symbolize whatever you want it to. It's the same with paintings - they can be interpreted however you want them to be.


As we walked through the building, its spiral design leading us further and further upwards, we were able to catch glimpses of af Klint's life through the strokes of her brush. My favorite of her collections was one titled, "Evolution." As a science nerd myself, the idea that the story of our existence was being incorporated into art intrigued me. One piece represented the eras of geological time through her use of spirals and snails colored abstractly. She clued you into the story she was telling by using different colors and tones to represent different periods. It felt like reading "The Scarlet Letter" and my biology textbook at the same time. Maybe that sounds like the worst thing ever, but to me it was heaven. Art isn't just art and science isn't just science. Aspects of different studies coexist and join together to form something amazing that will speak to even the most untalented patron walking through the museum halls.

Related Content

Facebook Comments