A story can change everything. You see, we are story-telling creatures and if you want to sway someone a story is a far better means than a lecture. I’ve been thinking quite a lot about this because a story, in the form of a movie (it doesn’t matter which one), has been on my mind quite a lot lately. This got me to thinking about the ways stories we tell ourselves come to define our lives. It happens on a national as well as an individual level. We’re engaged by a continuous narrative. Until some kind of resolution comes we wonder what happens next. Since my research has lately shifted to popular culture and religion, I’ve had the excuse to watch lots of stories. Some of them just won’t let you go.
To me there’s no comparison between a well-written movie and one thrown together only for box-office potential. They do overlap sometimes, but a film where the story is central often has power to stay with you long after you’ve left the theater. We make sense of life through story. Our biographies are the stories we tell about ourselves from our own perspectives. I love to listen to other people’s stories. I suspect—no, I know there would be a lot less conflict in the world if belligerents would listen to one another’s stories. The tragedy of politics is those driven to rise to leadership roles often have vacuous stories—the blind ambition to be on top is hardly a tale worth the telling. We like stories of presidents born in log cabins who had to struggle to get to a position of influence. They have compelling stories.
Quite often, it seems to me, world leaders today are cut from the somewhat sociopathic model favored by businesses. No story need be told. Success is measured by the numbers. Metrics tell you all you need to know, never mind how your workers feel. The workers, you see, are telling their stories. Building their narratives. It isn’t too difficult to tell story tellers apart from those who climb out of corporate ambition. The story tellers are much more interesting to listen to. Even politicians—at least those who’ve not yet lost their souls—can be affected by a story. It seems strange to me that, given the obvious power of story, we don’t emphasize it more in education. There’s more to life than getting a job and climbing to the top. Those on the bottom often have the best stories.