What is the greatest story you’ve ever heard? Do you remember it? Do you remember the way it made you feel… the way it made you think about your life or how you can live differently? If you remember this story, I want to ask you a new question; why is this the greatest story ever told? The truth about this question is that everyone will have a different answer. If you’re having a hard time conjuring up a response, don’t beat yourself up, because sometimes we love stories without really ever knowing why.
Some people may end up having a love for the same story, but the reasons will most likely be different, based upon the person giving it meaning. To me, stories are a way of seeing a new perspective in life. It is a way to gain wisdom and understanding of things we may not know: to escape in epic fantasies or ground us in reality. We allow our hearts to be moved with hope and encouragement and sometimes, fear and despair. We, as humans, love to hear and tell stories, but why? I may have an answer to this question, but before I attempt to explain my reason on this complex topic, we must first have an understanding of what a story is and how it is created.
The oldest known literary work and myth that we know of is called The Epic of Gilgamesh, written more than 3000 years ago. This story is about a man who is two-thirds god and one-thirds man, who travels to the edge of the world and discovers secrets of gods and records them on stone tablets. The story seems pretty straightforward when you hear a synopsis like this, but underneath the words and sentences there are themes, motifs, and self-enacted pieces of symbolism that allow the reader to be interested, entertained, and taught to.
When a person reads this story, from it, they should be able to look at their own life and see where they can apply these ideals. Or in other words, a mythology (just another word for story) is ultimately a way in which the reader reconciles their consciousness to the preconditions of their own existence: to question the very nature of life itself.
For example, because of the love and friendship between Endiku and Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh went from a tyrant and a bully to a king and a hero. Once Endiku died, Gilgamesh’s grief and terror forced him on a quest for immortality that would bring him no gain. What does the author want the reader to take away from this? Everyone will have a different answer, but in my opinion, the author wants me to understand that love is a powerful force that can have positive effects on a person, but it can also cause negative ailments that can transform a kind hearted man, into a self-seeking narcissist. With this theme of love, I can now apply the understanding to my life.
Now that we have a better understanding of what stories are, I want to attempt to share an idea about how we tell them. In many ways, stories can be told through pictures (film or photography), music, words, actions; the possibilities are endless, but the crazy thing is, I believe that there is only one way a story comes to life before it can be shared: it’s through our life. What I mean by this is that stories come to life by the experiences we face.
Once we experience a new story, it is then transcended into thought for us to process. After the story has been fully processed, the thoughts and ideas in the mind are then translated into a specific medium, when it is then shared with the world. Like the story of Gilgamesh: someone had experienced a positive or negative day in the life, thus turning it into an idea in the author’s head, until that idea was put into words on a piece of paper. Now it is a sort of being that people can read and understand.
It is the same process for creating a Film. The story starts out as an idea from an experience in the mind of the beholder, until it is translated into a screenplay, then shared through the medium of a visual dimension for people to see. I could say the same about Music, except the medium in which it’s shared, is an auditory one for people to hear. All stories are constructed from the experience and the imagination of the creator’s life, but the medium in which the story is shared is different.
But from all of this information, what good does it bring to us? This knowledge doesn’t answer the question for why stories are powerful; there is just a better understanding of what stories are and how we tell them. There is a reason for all of this, let me explain with an idea. When someone states that they hate classical music, I believe, in my opinion, that’s a blanket statement. This person hasn’t been fully educated on the history, creation, and process of how classical music came to be.
For example, classical music roughly began around c.1750 and ended 80 years later in c.1830. Classical music was created, by taking the textural intricacy of the Baroque era music and using it as stepping-stone to create a new era, that had a near-infatuation with structural intricacy. In this new era of music, famous Composers like Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, crafted symphonies within their mind, conducted their thoughts with the motions of their hands, where it was finally translated into music by the raw instruments of the Orchestra. With the knowledge of these components, the person will better understand the beautiful consonance of classical music.
Just like a story, it is essential to understand the history, creation, and process of how this narrative comes to life, so we, as the people who read them, can enjoy the contents within and comprehend the underlying text, to perceive a new theme in life. With this enlightenment, you can begin to understand why your favorite story impacted you the way that it did.
Now that we know all of this information, I want to attempt to share my reason for why I think the human race loves stories. Before I share, I would like for you all to know that my answer may not be what you’d expect. My opinion doesn’t have to deal solely with psychological or philosophical elements (though they are important and will be included in my attempt), but rather, my idea is based on the foundation of theological virtues. So my answer to this question will in fact include information, knowledge, and truths from the Bible.
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). On the first day, God created night and day, the second; He created the sky and the sea, the third; He created land and vegetation, four; stars, sun, and moon, five; sea creatures including fish and birds, and finally on day six, God created Man out of His own image. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Image is an “exact likeness” and or “a reproduction or imitation of the form of a person or thing.” The conclusion of this definition brings us to a place where we learn that not just our physical bodies are created out of the image of God, but also our mind, thoughts, and emotions. Our entire being (minus the sin) is an exact likeness to our Creator.
With this knowledge, I can say that our love for stories came from God and was ingrained in us since the beginning of our time. To back this idea up, the Bible is the living Word of God and within, there are stories that interest, entertain, and teach us how to live, act, and find truth. In 2 Timothy 3:16, Paul writes to his beloved child Timothy, these words, “All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…” This verse brings light and truth to this idea: there is no coincidence that the Bible is over 75% story. God knew His love for story and how powerful it can be, so He created the Bible as a way for us to connect, have intimacy with Him, and learn how to live our lives in righteousness.
So then, I come back to my original question: why are stories powerful? With all of this information and wisdom just shared with you, do you think that you can come up with your own idea as of why stories impact us the way that they do? My hope would be that you would answer my question with a “yes”, but if not, that’s okay.
The Power of Story is a complex topic to tackle yet it’s an idea that I believe is important to gain wisdom on. Maybe a story is powerful because we allow it to be. We give our ear to them: we sit, watch, and open our life to the story being told. They captivate our attention with detail and a new perspective. They call out to our imagination and allow us to ponder and experience life in a different way. They can reach out to our own understandings and make us connect to the circumstances within. They transcend our hearts into a beautifully profound area of existence. I could be having a terrible day, but when I hear a humorous story, it will immediately change my negative day into a positive one. Stories must be powerful, because we allow them to be. They present information to us and we give it meaning.
We, as humans, learn from other people. If a story or myth is about gaining new perspective and applying it to your life, then the life you walk and live is ultimately a story. You give it meaning when and where you please. People from the outside can be interested, entertained, and taught to by the life you live. So then, the final conclusion to my question, ends with this idea of an answer that, in my opinion, I believe to be true: stories are powerful and impact us the way that they do because they derive from the experiences and imaginations, of people who walk out living stories every day.
So, what’s your favorite story?
“But how could you live and have no story to tell?” –Fyodor Dostoyevsky