The Power of Stories in Our Lives
“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”
– Joan Didion (Writer and Journalist)
Why Stories Exist
Think about it; our lives are jam-packed with stories. Stories we read, stories we hear, stories we watch, and even the stories we tell ourselves.
Stories are a way for us to make sense of the world around us and to help us gain a perspective of what is going on and why.
There are so many aspects to storytelling and what they can do. Some methods are used to incite fear and unrest, and some are used to unite the masses and bring people together on common ground. For example, during the first and second World Wars, the British government used propaganda campaigns to rally people together against the common enemy. This engendered a spirit of community and pride in the British war effort, which was so effective, that many believe it was a contributing factor in their success.
However, stories started long before the printing press came into existence; there is evidence of early ‘man’ recounting tales in caves across the world. Stick-like paintings depicting scenes of their primitive lives. Perhaps they were used to tell younger generations about their struggles and achievements or to teach them about the dangers of the world around them. We can only imagine what they were used for, but their legacy lives on with the oldest dating back 40,000+ years ago.
In the time of William Shakespeare, the famous bard, plays and songs were a favourite way to convey information to the people. From Royal courts to the backstreet taverns, people would come together to hear the telling of tales by travelling performers and bards – it was more than just entertainment.
Stories are part of us, and they often can define us.
Why I Believe in Stories
Some of you may know that I was born and grew up in Northern Ireland at the height of the civil unrest (known as ‘the troubles’). It was an extremely challenging time for me as a highly sensitive child to be surrounded by so much fear and distrust. The only thing that helped me survive was my love for stories. Even before I could read I loved someone telling me a story, and when I started to read I began to devour any storybooks I could get my hands on. The stories transported me to other worlds with incredible heroes and heroines from the tales of Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm, to Tolkien’s Middle-earth and a hobbit called Bilbo Baggins, or the world of Narnia created by C.S. Lewis.
One of my personal favourites was Lewis Carroll’s story about Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It was so magical and my mind was filled with incredible images. I have re-read this story many times, and each time it takes on a slightly different meaning.
Stories were my lifeline, my saving grace, whisked away from the harsh cruelty of the world around me into magical places. I know I was not the only one who found comfort in storybooks – did you?
As I mentioned, stories are everywhere in our lives – from in the pages of the books we read to the stories we tell ourselves in our heads. Stories are our way of making sense of the world around us – they act as our filter and our stories shape us.
Are the stories we tell ourselves the ‘truth’ (the whole truth and nothing but the truth)?
I believe we skew our stories with the filters we have in place. If you tend to be a ‘glass half empty’ person, you will probably find your stories are ones filled with hardship, bad experiences and being on the receiving end of a raw deal. Whereas, someone who is naturally more positive, will have a different perspective and they will tell the story with the emphasis on a learning and a ‘silver lining’.
I still find it incredible that two people may have the same experience and yet, depending on their psyche, they will re-tell the story in a completely different way.
So, who is telling the truth?
Why — they both are in their own way. Both have gone through the experience, extracted vital information based on their filters and come up with their own story of events. It is a matter of perspective.
Is one story better than the other?
Well, it depends on your disposition. I know from coaching clients that the person who has the more positive outlook will take what they need from the experience and let it go, moving on pretty unscathed with their life. Whereas, the other negative person will often dwell on the story, going over and over it, trying to make sense, judging, comparing and criticizing themselves – leaving them stuck in a negative spiralling loop.
I ask you to decide for yourself which one is better than the other – certainly one option is healthier than the other.
I’ve realised that this is such a significant topic, and I can’t cover everything here and now… so watch out for future blog posts on this fascinating topic.
I will leave you with this –
How accurate are your stories?
Do they serve you in the right way?
If not, are you ready to change them?