Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Why We Tell Stories, Part Two

This is Part Two of an essay I wrote and presented at my church a few Sunday ago on the topic “Why Do We Tell Stories?”

We like stories because they give us information – and we all, at every age, are seekers of information. Stories tell us how to act when presented with a new situation. We eagerly listen as characters behave boldly, bravely, stupidly, cowardly, cleverly, properly, when confronted with an unfamiliar or dangerous situation. Professor Boyd: “Narrative can offer us either particular social information to guide immediate decisions or general principles we can apply in the future.” Stories are another form of socialization, a way of playing with people we have never met. Stories teach us empathy, how to enter the mind of another, to understand motives not our own.

We prefer fictional stories to factual ones, perhaps because fiction strips away the unimportant parts of the narrative, and the lessons are clearer. We particularly love them when they present the exaggerated, the exciting. A favorite word in a story: Suddenly -- !

Stories are vital to us as a super-social species. They reflect our culture and reinforce our expectations and understanding of one another. Professor Boyd says, “. . . fiction cultivates our sympathetic imagination by prompting us to see from the perspective of character after character.” And to see beyond the here and now, beyond things as they are to things that might be. He describes a group of deaf people living on the margins of society in Mexico who have never been taught sign language or any other form of communication. Yet even they tell, through mime, stories to one another – an illustration of how important, how basic, stories are to us as human beings.

Anything important to our survival nature makes pleasurable. Look at food, for example. The word “feast” spills over to apply to anything wonderful, abundant, and admirable. The kitchen is often described as the heart of the home. There are no end of cookbooks. Or restaurants. The joyous Ghost of Christmas Present in Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is first presented standing atop a veritable mountain of delicious food.

And equally, look at a child’s delighted, expectant face on hearing the phrase, “Once upon a time . . .” Look at books and bookstores. Look at movies. For heaven’s sake, look at television – which we all do, to the despair of people who wish we would exercise more.

And look at me, in my silly hats and my happy choice of a career: writing stories.

1 comment:

Linda O. Johnston said...

There's a lot of emotion incorporated into fiction, Monica, and I think this part of your essay illustrates that. Great post!