I have to confess that for all of my attempts to be the mysterious wizard with a great plan (and a spell or two) up their sleeve, I instead just tend to find my heart on my sleeve. I love heroes, and I love the stories they live. I can barely get enough of them. I love stories told in movies, stories told in books, stories told around a campfire… In fact I’ll dare say that I’ve yet to meet a way of telling stories I didn’t like.
But as much as I enjoy stories, I don’t think we would love them as much as we do if the only thing stories offered us was enjoyment. Because while stories are quite enjoyable, there are plenty of enjoyable things that are far less prevalent than stories. Today, I want to tell you the real reason I think we love stories as much as we do—and why the stories we tell and our love of stories is actually a critical part of what makes us human.
Whatever other observations you can make about the world, we can all agree: there’s a lot going on. I’d dare say almost too much going on. Even if we just focus in on our own little corners of the world, taking out of account everyone else’s lives, the amount of information involved is simply staggering. Even just looking around my study, I see pens and parchment, pictures of previous times, and countless books, each with its own author, each author with their own history and past, full of people with their own history and pasts. And where’s the time to remember all of them, when I can barely remember how I spent my time yesterday?
See, we don’t just tell stories because we enjoy them—we tell stories because they help organize an otherwise chaotic world. I’m reminded of old detective movies where the sleuth arrives on the scene to find a panicked witness, cuts them off in the middle of their hysterical recounting of the events, and says , “just the facts, please.” Because while in a movie, it makes for a great scene (probably with a strange looking hat, magnifying glass, and puff of a pipe), in life, “just the facts” is far more than any of us have the capacity to remember!
In a chaotic world, full of facts, figures, feelings, questions, and seemingly all too few answers, stories don’t just entertain us—they help us keep our heads on straight. Stories help guide our brains towards the information that is actually pertinent to our lives, and how we view ourself and others. Great authors know to edit their stories down to just the key events, the core moments that help define the context, conflict, and resolution that make up every great stories. And they know to do it because our brains function the same way. It’s why you can remember positive and negative events from the past with crystal clarity when you likely don’t remember what you had for lunch last Tuesday!
So the next time you sit down to enjoy a great story, no matter how that story is told, remember: you’re not relaxing or slacking off—you’re literally reinforcing the boundaries of reality, remembering what helps shape an otherwise indecipherable world: story.
May the road rise up to meet you!