I follow quite a few storytellers out on God’s Green Internet, and found a link to this article called, “Is Storytelling Dangerous?” It’s a short read but parts of it stuck with me. This section, for one, was compelling:
“Stories move us, frighten us, embolden us, strengthen us, renew us — the list of things stories can do for us is nearly endless.”
Add to that a recent finding: stories can quite simply and clearly reduce pain. Children in hospital in Brazil reported less pain and a more positive attitude toward their doctors and nurses after hearing stories versus a control group who got riddles instead (Brockington et al., 2021).”
Stories do A LOT, it’s clear. We are meaning-making creatures, and stories are part of how we make up meaning. Stories are not just literal, but also poetic, symbolic, metaphoric. We make meaning of our lives through the stories we tell. After a significant event, especially one that is intense, we can often craft a retroactive narrative. “Ah, this bad thing happened because of these things….(which seemed innocuous at the time.”
And, because we generally are also creatures that don’t want to feel pain, we can use stories to justify a hell of a lot of things that make us feel bad, even if facts are in opposition to the salve the story brings.
This section of the article resonated:
“I worry that the kinds of stories we tell ourselves in certain pockets of society today have become fact-free, conspiracy-laden wish-fulfillment fantasies that deny reality, science, and the basic glue that has held modern law-based democratic societies together.
Democracy is a story that we tell ourselves, and it’s one that can’t endure if citizens deny the basic facts of its continuation. Any good story involves a teller and an audience, and a set of implicit rules, or conditions. If we fault the story and deny the implicit rules, the story cannot continue to hold sway over us and we will descend into anarchy, mob rule, and despotism. It’s an unpleasant and alarming prospect, but no longer implausible.”
Makes me wonder though if there are articles written which come from nearly the perfect opposite, after all I’m sure that if “my side” believes the “other side” is behaving in a fact-free, conspiracy-laden wish-fulfillment manner, they too likely believe I am doing the same thing.
The issue for me, is that in the best of times, groups of people can find a common story, a common symbology, a common understanding of myth and narrative in order to have a cohesive society.
Perhaps we are seeing not that the stories themselve are dangerous-we should be able to tell the difference between facts and fiction (and fiction is often a representation of our society’s fears, foibles, needs and desires) — but that the meta-tellership is elevating some stories over others, crafting fictions into facts by using feelings, and fomenting this divisiveness which forms itself into a kind of force field between groups in what was a more cohesive society.
Cohesive for whom? That’s a very good question and deserves many articles. Certainly, not everyone in the US gets told or gets to tell the same story about our values such as freedom, autonomy, and human rights (because there are concurrent narrative dynamics such as racism and white supremacy, power and authority, sexism, homophobia, capitalism impeding an equal and just experience).
Today we do see a crush of narratives coming out about public health. About the tension between the idea of individualism and communitarianism. About sharing, taking care of the least of us vs getting what we want when we want it.
It’s a challenging time. If anything, I would say that stories matter even more than they ever did, but they might need to be told in a new (or maybe old) way. It may be more important than ever to ask, “Who is doing the storytelling and why?” We need to find a sense of cohesion in this pandemic, to find and weave the threads of justice and democracy for all vs despotism and authoritarianism. Of kindness vs cruelty. Of plenty vs scarcity.
We then need to find new tellers and listen, because the ones currently taking up a lot of airspace seem willing to do some damage.