Why Do We Tell Stories?

I’ve been reflecting lately on the reasons we tell stories and the reasons we like to hear them. I’m a person who generally lives in the moment or well ahead of it. I often tell people that I have a bad memory. The truth is I don’t really, I just don’t tend to value the past as much as I value what I’m doing now or what I need to be doing soon. I file the past away and I don’t take it out to look at it very often. This tendency makes me a pretty good secretary, which is what I was trained in real life to do. So I guess my mentality fits. I’m extremely good at filing, one course in college spent six full weeks on it, 1-10, A-Z. I can do it all.

I find humor that in the paragraph I just wrote I told a story. It wasn’t very long, only two sentences but in a very real way I wrote a story that defines me. At least a little. “I’m extremely good at filing, one course in college spent six full weeks on it, 1-10, A-Z. I can do it all.”  In those two sentences there is a protagonist, a journey, and an outcome. There is a bit of humor, but also real pride. After all I did survive those six weeks of mind numbing coursework, accomplishing what takes little children about 20 minutes to learn in grade school. I’m not suggesting that I managed a whole hero’s journey (check out the Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell) in my brief statement. But I did tell a story. My story.

Why did I do that? Why do we all do it? It is as though we simply can’t help ourselves. I have found that almost anywhere people meet and talk, they tell stories. I hear stories like this all the time. Conversations in checkout lines are a positively golden example. You meet someone who is scanning your stuff so you can waste more hard earned money. They contractually greet you, you mumble an obligatory response. But, if you get a good checker, they ask you another question, maybe even look you in the eye for like one second, and, you answer. Why? Why do you answer? And you probably tell them something about yourself that in a way defines a part of you. I love when this happens when I’m doing something for Terrasylvae. Because when I answer the checker what I’m doing it is like they come to life. I find there are only two responses. Real enthusiasm, or the ‘you be crazy’ look. I’m pleased to say it’s usually the former. Because, Terrasylvae is awesome.

One of my favorite things to do is listen to someone tell me the same story over and over again. This is helpful with my older parents who sometimes forget what they’ve told me. (Another story in that sentence?) But I do it with my younger friends as well. I love when they catch themselves too, they pause in the middle of a story and look at me and say something to the effect of ‘have I told you this already?’ And I always reply roughly the same way, ‘well maybe, but go on, I’m learning something new.’ And I think that might be part of the answer.

We learn by stories. We relate to stories. Stories not only teach us about the world, they teach us about ourselves. There is special kind of agony, that I’m sure Dante left out of his nine circles, that is enduring a history class that is all names and dates. History is people, doing things, creating stories, creating our story. History class should be one big, wonderful, story time.

I think in the end we all become something better when we share our stories. We are all only one thread, but when we share our stories we weave together into a beautiful tapestry. This is part of the magic of Terrasylvae. We are a story made up of little stories. We all learn and grow and when we share we become something beautiful.