The Surprising Advantages of Being a Storyteller

The Grandfather tells a story, by Albert Anker, ca. 1884.

The Grandfather tells a story, by Albert Anker, ca. 1884.

I Am a Storyteller

A few years ago, I completed my CC in Toastmasters . During that time, I took every advantage of the leeway provided by the rules to tell stories. I told true stories about my life and made up fictional stories about the origin of the Loch Ness Monster, Professor MacKay and a dog on the farm. Of course, sometimes the speech assignments didn’t leave enough room for me to tell a story like I wanted. I won several awards speaking in Toastmasters. But, almost invariably, when I couldn’t tell a story, I didn’t  walk away with honors. Stories are powerful. Stories make a difference.

I am a Storyteller.

Stories can be true; stories can be fiction. But, stories are not just words and information. Stories have a beginning, middle, and end. Stories have a climax. Stories pull us in, chew on us and spit us out; and we like it. We love it. Human beings love stories.

Stories Make our Brains Go Crazy

The_Historian_(The_How_and_Why_Library)

1902 by E. Irving Couse, A. N. A.; The Historian; The Indian Artist is painting in sign language, on buckskin, the story of a battle with American Soldiers. When exhibited at the National Academy this picture was considered one of the most important paintings of the year. See if you can find the sign of the Indians, the United States Calvalry and the officer in command. The dots he is making are “bullets.” See the arrows.

While information presented orally or in writing can activate the language portions of our brains and have a minor engagement of our cognition, stories engage multiple areas of the brain as if we are experiencing the events of the story. We don’t just listen to or read a story, we experience it. Why would we want information when we can have experiences?

Throughout human history, we’ve used stories to convey information instead of just conveying the information. We are wired to receive information better when it’s told as a story. We connect our experiences with the experiences in the stories. Everything we do, our memories and our experiences are translated into stories in our brains.

Stories Increase our Empathy

Because stories engage our whole brains as if we are experiencing the events of the stories, we establish an empathy with the characters of the stories. Our general empathy increases overall and we wind up relating to our fellow human beings better.

Stories Increase Community

Because our empathy increases, we have an easier time connecting with strangers as a result of stories. When a group of people hear a story, they establish a connection with others who have heard the story. We also establish connection with the storyteller, and, if applicable, with the protagonists in the story. This community increases our motivation to work together and be more tolerant of others.

Stories Pass Along Values

This function of engagement, empathy and community has existed from the beginning of humanity. The values of society have always been transmitted through stories and story telling. All cultures throughout history have used storytelling to convey the values, ideals, morality and ethics of the society on to each subsequent generation. When we see that values need to change, when we have new information that needs to be incorporated into our values, we use stories to do it.

Stories Spark Imagination

The best part of storytelling is the ability to spark the imagination in others. We allow others to think creatively, to tell their own stories to dream up new things. Progress doesn’t happen without imagination and stories are the spark to a blaze of imagination. Through stories, we can inspire others to create, invent, design, build and solve problems. The world gets better when people use their imaginations.

Storytellers Have Power

Storytellers literally have the power to change the world (sorry for the pun, I couldn’t resist). It is through storytelling that we can change lives. From an individual, to a group, to a society, changing lives, is what storytellers do. And, with great power comes great responsibility, but that’s another story.

What kind of power do you think storytellers wield? Do you think storytelling has this kind of influence? Let me know in the comments.

 

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