The importance of stories

January 27, 2022   ·   0 Comments

By Anthony Carnovale

Storytelling and language are what distinguishes us from other species. It is what makes us unique and what gives our lives meaning.  They are our media, our religion, our bond to one another, our comfort and our invitation to connect with other human beings. Stories are about who we are, what we do, and why we do what we do. Stories illuminate our worldviews and challenge them. Myths and fables from across different cultures, with similar tales and themes, prove that we are more alike than some would have us believe. The lessons stories teach alter how we experience the world, ourselves, one another.

The ABCs are a part of our DNA. Think of the amount of time we spend in storytelling mode: a grandmother sharing stories at the dinner table; a father reading to his daughter at night; how many times have you ever wished you could go back in time and rewrite, relive, a single moment? we talk to ourselves; we try to imagine what will happen in the future. We breathe, we blink, we story.

The way that we tell, and consume, stories has changed. Modern society has shifted the onus of storytelling onto the producers of television, streaming services, film and publishing conglomerates. We binge-watch the latest season of ‘Narcos’ (and spend more time scrolling through curated titles than actually watching something). More and more stories are being told by fewer and fewer people. Social media was supposed to provide everyone with a storytelling platform. The problem is that too many people are telling too many of the same stories. The world of storytelling has become one giant echo-chamber.  

A testament to just how important stories are can be seen in what’s happening in schools and libraries across North America, as groups try to ban books that are deemed offensive, and teachers and librarians are accused of poisoning people’s minds by using books that are labelled obscene or insensitive. It’s a dangerous time for intellectual and creative freedom.

And then there is the public narrative, the story about who and what we are as a collective. How do we recapture that power of public narrative and re-learn the art of storytelling? I think so much of what’s been happening these past few years has been a result of our inability to tell stories, to get people to listen, to learn, to grow and evolve. There are those that have reduced stories to a couple of simple plot points: me versus the world; us versus them. There is zero room for complexity, for character foils, for character development— without these there is no growth, no plot, no opportunity for a new story to emerge. Populism thrives on simple narratives (see Donald Trump, Doug Ford, Boris Johnson, etc).

I’m a teacher; I teach high school English. I teach my students the importance of being able to tell a good story. If you can tell a good story, you can live a good life. A good story is a good interview; a good story is a good first date; a good story is the closing argument of a court case; a good story is a chance to show what’s right and what’s wrong. When my students write a story, I encourage them to ‘show, don’t tell.” A good story is a story that allows someone to make up their own mind.

Like all small towns, Orangeville has an established narrative. Its history is not much different than most small towns. For me, the most compelling image of this town is that we are situated at the highest peak in southern Ontario. We’re close to the sky, to the heavens. That’s a wonderful image, a wonderful starting point for a story to emerge.

I’m tired of reading the same old stories in our local papers; of reading about housing prices and property taxes and COVID. Just once, I’d like to get excited about a play at Theatre Orangeville; I’d like to read a story in a local magazine that surprises me, moves me. I’d like the storytellers in our community to take more risks. Is that too much to ask? 

There is so much in the world that is out of our control. The one thing we can control is the story that we choose to tell. In the end, if we’re not telling and shaping our own narrative, who will? Storytelling is about power. We need to make space for new stories to be told; we have to take a look at the old stories and see how they can be reworked for a complex world.

We all have a story inside of us. Start sharing it. Start crafting it. Find an interesting and creative way to share it with others. Make time to listen to other people’s stories; let their stories influence yours. This is how we grow as a species. This is how we move forward as a community. I believe, with every fibre of my being, that the future belongs to storytellers.

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