Stories surround us every single day. Humans have been telling them since we first put smashed berry juice to cave walls. The stories we tell aren’t confined to firesides or a lone writer with pen and paper in hand. They never have been. They swirl around us, so many times too fast to be properly heard. One swirls within us, narrating our thoughts and emotions, telling the passage of our life.
“After nourishment, shelter, and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” ―Philip Pullman
Stories tell us who we are, who others are. We need diverse tales to populate our lives with experiences and places that would otherwise be untouchable, unknowable. They change who we are from the inside out. Our internal dialogue determines how we view the world. The external chronicles that we ingest determine how we view others.
Fantastical fiction, historical tales, contemporary tellings, personal memoirs, distilled poetry, news articles, opinions, Q&As, interviews, twitter updates, facebook feeds, TED talks, no nonsense non-fiction…on and on the list goes. It never stops. That much we all know.
“If you do not tell the truth about yourself you cannot tell it about other people.” -Virginia Woolf
When was the last time you were watching the news (local or national) and they gave you a point by point rundown of the facts of the day? I’m going to guess the answer is never. It doesn’t matter what the subject matter is – a critical vote, a crime, a tragic accident, a courageous act – we never get a careful recitation of the events that have been deemed newsworthy. We’re lucky to get in-depth and fact-checked. What we do get are stories; bites of who agrees with whom, tidbits of hardened criminals and frightened victims, with side orders of shiny human interest accounts to help us digest all the disagreement and sadness.
Once the news begins again (whether it’s the evening broadcast or just post-commercial), we don’t get new stories. We get the same regurgitated debates and dramas with the same dialogue and droplines. The news organizations are trying to tap into the innate human desire to hear and tell stories. They go for flashy and dire because it catches attention, but that tactic rarely reaches below the surface. It usually feels like an advertisement, no different than the commercials we just watched. A careful relation of the facts doesn’t dive deep enough either. There is a better way to tell tales than the adaptations of either CNN or C-SPAN.
Whether fiction or non, to reach a mind, a story must share truth. We need to know the facts, the pros and cons, the event as it happened, but we also need to know why and how and what it means. Our news makes the headline the main attraction, nevermind the story beneath. Too often, they don’t even write what should be critical headlines.
Just yesterday three major networks refused to show President Obama’s national address on immigration. It’s shameful. It reminds me of another story. Imagine if they not only aired it, but made it a story with substance. Imagine if the American people got a rundown of Obama’s plans. Imagine if they went out and interviewed the people who will be affected by this executive action. Imagine we got more than a ten second clip, but the whole thing. Imagine if they told us an in-depth, fact-checked story.
“Make it a rule never to give a child a book you would not read yourself.” -George Bernard Shaw
I like to think that Shaw was trying to get us all to read more picture books. But more than that, I think he was trying to get us to think about content. Both what we give ourselves and what we give our children. I recently read a book called Parenting with a Story that reminded me of the importance of the stories our children hear and the power they hold. A well told story can get inside your head. It can dispense advice whether you hear it in a character’s voice or not. Cliches are headlines. Stories are parables, guide books.
Giving our children stories, whether they come from a parenting book, a picture book, a cartoon, or our own lives, will do more than just expand their vocabulary. It will teach them empathy and understanding. It will connect them to the world and to the person telling the story.
“The only thing we’ve found that makes the emptiness bearable is each other.” -Carl Sagan
The stories we listen to shape our opinions, mold our thoughts, and transform our understanding. The stories we tell do the same for other people. We read, we watch, we listen – all to connect, to know that we are not alone. We are stories – all of us, all the time.