…because we believe in the healing power of stories
by Melina Garibyan
“Stories speak louder than facts alone and are heard without the resistance that often accompanies attempts to argue people into agreement.”
— John Perkins
In a world flooded with information that mainly waters our brain, the heart will dry up. Our modern culture is obsessed with certainty and definite answers. In times of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity we seek out simple answers to stay in control. Our view of the world is based only on that part of reality that we can measure and analyze. Science, as our narrative describing what we see and what we assume to be in the natural world, is therefore necessarily limited and only tells part of the story….
In the search for meaning, facts lack a crucial ingredient. And that ingredient is stories. Stories transport emotions and emotions in a social context transport aspects of a much bigger story. The many stories that people tell to voice their sorrows, share their joys and rediscover their own truths can reveal important facets that we do not find in facts. Stories are loud enough to drown out the deafening media noise and to tame the flood of facts. Stories touch our hearts and feed our brains at the same time. We need to tell more stories, in order to feel again. In order to make sense.
But more importantly, ”stories speak louder than facts alone and are heard without the resistance that often accompanies attempts to argue people into agreement,“ as John Perkins, author and activist, so powerfully puts it.
We are wired through stories. This fine wire connects all of us and gives us a feeling of belonging.
Terrence Gargiulo, anthropologist and author, is right when he says that ”the shortest distance between two people is a story“. It only takes a narrator and a listener to build a bridge that connects us with each other, with the past and the future. Together with facts, this bridge of storytelling and listening form a crucial basis to help us navigate through complexity. This basis does not give us the answers to everything, but helps us come to terms with the mysteries of this world.
And even if it sometimes seems as if we cannot control what is happening around us, there is one thing we can certainly control: the narrative in our mind. Humans are inclined to see narratives where there are none because it can afford meaning to our lives—a form of existential problem-solving. Jonathan Gottschall argues that ”stories help us navigate life’s complex social problems—just as flight simulators prepare pilots for difficult situations.“
“Telling your story—while being witnessed with loving attention by others who care —may be the most powerful medicine on earth. Each of us is a constantly unfolding narrative, a hero in a novel no one else can write. And yet so many of us leave our stories untold, our songs unsung— and when this happens, we wind up feeling lonely, listless, out of touch with our life’s purpose, plagued with a chronic sense that something is out of alignment. We may even wind up feeling unworthy, unloved, or sick.”
— Psychology Today
A story links an idea to an ego. It presents a sequence of events and invites the audience to put themselves in the shoes of the person who experienced those events. We all have a strong, abiding sense of ourselves, and stories use our sense of self to give emotional weight and durability to an abstract idea.
Listening to other stories helps us to shift our perspective, to reinterpret our own actions and to see alternative strategies. This coping mechanism has a healing power and reinforces our capacities for action.
…because stories form culture
Storytelling has a profound impact on culture because it shapes beliefs and ideas. Stories create a shared understanding of the world and reinforces values that are passed on to future generations. “The stories we absorb seem to shape our thought processes in much the same way lived experience does,” stated researcher Paul Zak at The Future of Storytelling 2012.
“The stories we tell literally make the world. If you want to change the world, you need to change your story.”
— Michael Margolis
Each individual story is a thread in a much larger tapestry of stories that together form a cultural landscape. That leads to the question: what is culture? When can you actually talk about a culture, a nation, an origin? A culture is not only defined by its borders, not by land ownership, but by the centuries-old stories that have been told and passed on. By artefacts, by traditions, by rituals that tell the story of that cultural landscape. Borders sometimes shift, but the old stories remain. You can take over borders, you can take over land, but you will never be able to take over the stories that define the people.
…because stories are a time capsule into the future
As Winston Churchill said: “The farther back you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.” We learn from the mistakes and achievements of our ancestors and benefit from the experience that generations before us have gathered and passed on.
Stories are even more powerful than we realize. Research has shown that people who listen to and engage with stories particularly attentively behave more empathetically afterwards.
Who does not wish for a just and more humane world?
It is in our nature to strive for betterment. But how are we to know what is better, if we have no stories to build on? Where would we be without the beauty of all the stories that inspire us to create a better future?
Let us find healing together, celebrate our culture and inspire our future generations to create a better future with the gift of stories.
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