Sunday, January 3, 2010

Enchanting Stories

Every culture in the world has stories, from the time of people sitting around the campfire to watching movies, it is always the great stories that have the power to move us.

Facts and figures are important, but they do not have the power to move us like a story that touches our heart. The news takes on a dimension that we can understand when we can see a story of a person killed in the war, or the person who has a health care crisis, or lost their job. Biographies of great people come to life when we are shown something down to earth and revealing about a person, rather than just a record of their accomplishments. Even how-to books work best when there are stories interwoven with the instructions.

If you have had the experience of discovering a writer whose work you like, do you search out more from that person and keep reading that? When that happens, it is because we can relate to that person's style and material. We enter into an altered state when we are reading, with the words stimulating pictures in our imagination. When a favorite storyteller begins their tale, we want to follow along and give our attention to that person who is able to invoke that altered state of consciousness.

How wonderful it is when that person has a sense of humor or a sense of irony as well as an eye for detail and an ear for voice.

Notice how they are still remaking the Sherlock Holmes character in new movies. Notice how we are entranced with new insights into the lives of people we thought we knew, such as Thomas Jefferson. Notice how even a reclusive character like Howard Hughes comes alive with the telling of stories about him. If you have read books or seen documentaries by Michael Pollan, or heard him speak, suddenly all this business of genetic engineering in food, and the evolution of plants we eat, for example, becomes understandable because he knows how to tell a story. The whole Chicken Soup for the Soul series of books was successful because the creators were able to get ordinary people to tell stories.

Consider the lasting legacy of the classic stories from the ancient Greeks. Who, for example, does not get what is meant by a Herculean task, the frustrations of Sisyphus, the playfulness of Pan, the classic love story of Eros & Psyche, the audacity of stealing fire by Prometheus, the jealousy and quarreling between Zeus and Hera, the beauty of Aphrodite whose very name gives us aphrodisiacs, the coming of age story of Demeter, Hades & Persephone, the call of the Sirens, the otherworldly communications of the Oracles of Delphi?

So perhaps when we need inspiration, or fresh ideas or encouragement, the best place to turn is to stories. When we are trying to sell an idea, we need stories. In order to believe, understand, be compassionate and accept new ideas, other people need our stories.

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