How do stories help navigate life? Here are 5 ways.

Stories have an important role to play. They can free us from feeling stuck in our lives. Stories can heal and help us to come to terms with troublesome events, especially when they are shared with trusted confidants. Stories have the power to shift our perceived place and space in this world.  Stories have the ability to influence thoughts and decisions.  They help us to understand what happened before, what is happening now and what may happen in the future.   Stories can also transport us to other places and worlds, right from the comforts of our home.

1. Stories are freeing.

Telling our stories can be freeing, especially when life presents us with roadblocks.  Sometimes, it is difficult to overcome these barriers and move toward a more positive thought process.  Essentially, at times like these, we feel stuck and change does not seem possible.  However, expressing ourselves through stories and storytelling can help us to be released from  a perpetual mental prison.  As Jamaican singer-songwriter Bob Marley sung in his song Redemption Song,

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Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery
None but ourselves can free our minds.   ~ Bob Marley 

Bob Marley was the ultimate storyteller through the creation of his lyrics and songs.  He shifted the way many people viewed their very existence.  He had a “spirit able to use words as transport” and a “spirit able to use the sound of poetry set to music to create images” (Bell, 2014).  To free ourselves, we must become our own special kind of storyteller, whether it be through music, writing, art or other forms of creative expression.  With the introduction of storytelling in our lives, comes a sense of freedom.

2. Stories are healing

How often have you told a story about the terrible day you had at work?  How healing was it to tell the story and be heard?  Human beings are built to tell stories.  Stories gives us a voice and a framework for what we believe to be true.  Stories may come from lived experience that sometimes run contrary to information we were given in school, by our parents and other sources of information encountered throughout our lives.  Maya Angelou says,

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There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. ~Maya Angelou 

Angelou’s poetry and essays were a means to express and release her painful experiences. Writing was  “a painful process of recalling and remembering a past that is broken into fragments (Jayageetha and Jansi Rani, 2018).”   Like Angelou, we can use story and storytelling as a tool to help us come to terms with events that have come and gone.

3. Stories are empowering

Stories have the incredible ability to bring people together.   Even despite oppressive external forces, a powerful narrative can join people together when they hold a  shared vision or goal, thus resulting in a transformative outcome.  One illustrative example of this is when Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington to approximately a quarter million people (History.com Editors, 2018).

Click to see the video on King’s speech:

Those who marched with King that day, came from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds, though they shared the same vision of ending racial segregation and discrimination.  One year after the march, the 24th amendment was ratified which abolished the poll tax, a tax which disadvantaged poor African American voters.  Also in this same year, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, in essence prohibiting “racial discrimination in employment and education,” as well as,  “racial segregation in public facilities” (History.com Editors, 2018).

When people come together for a common cause by way of a powerful story or narrative, so does the increasing ability of a person or group to shift their place and space in this world.  Further, a story may present information not considered previously.  Consequently, we may shift our perspective, as we may view particular information through a different vantage point.  We may become more flexible in our thinking and flexibility allows for a larger variety of outcomes.

4. Stories relay important information

Stories and storytelling have been a effective tool to disperse information throughout history.   Stories have the ability to forewarn of potential danger by pointing to the signs of danger, thus allowing the evasion danger.  For example, the Moken Tribe of Thailand were able to evade a disastrous tsunami, as they had heard stories of the danger which confronted them.

On December 26, 2004, a 9.1 to 9.3 earthquake struck off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, in turn, triggering tsunamis which impacted 14 countries, causing mass destruction and death.  Scientists and researchers report that the last tsunami in the region was centuries ago.  Chandra Jayasena, a geologist at the University of Peradeniya stated that the “2004 tsunami caught us completely by surprise, although we should have known better because there is a Sri Lankan legend in which the sea came ashore in 200 B.C.” (University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science, 2014.)  Likewise, the oral stories of the Moken, helped the members of the tribe to survive the tsunami. In her article, Tsunami, 10 years on: the sea nomads who survived devastation, Susan Smillie described the warning signs that the Moken observed prior to the devastating tsunami:

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On shore, hermit crabs were moving to the forest, eerily absent of its usual bird calls. In the ocean, deep sea fish had been appearing at the surface of the water, while divers reported large numbers of dolphins heading for deeper sea….There was no wind, the ocean was smooth and calm….the tide [was] receding and boats stuck in the sand.        

The Moken had oral knowledge by way of stories passed on from generation to generation, which warned them of the signs of a tsunami.  All of the Moken survived because they knew to head for higher ground.  In fact, between waves, they travelled in their longtail boats to pick up survivors in the water and survivors stranded on rocks (“Tsunami, 10 years on: the sea nomads who survived the devastation”, 2014).  In this example, we can see how important messages embedded in stories can save lives, even if one does not have first hand knowledge of the danger at hand.

5. Stories give us moments of refuge

Stories can be a means of a temporary escape and throw us into a world we can safely enjoy.  Whether we read an exciting fictional adventure or an engrossing biography, we can potentially be transported to another time, place or world with the melding of our imaginative minds and the words we read.  You can take a vacation without physically moving.  A skilled writer can make you feel as though you can taste the food they are describing or make you feel the loss of character upon their passing.  As Amy Tan says,

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Words to me were magic. You could say a word and it could conjure up all kinds of images or feelings or a chilly sensation or whatever. It was amazing to me that words had this power.   ~Amy Tan   

Avid readers are continuously drawn to stories because of the feelings a story evokes. In addition, imagination is stimulated when reading a good story and in turn this generates excitement.  The daily routine and monotony of life is transformed into an adventure. We need this stimulation to keep our lives fresh and free from stagnancy.

Conclusion

Stories have great influence and they shape our lives.  This is why stories are important.  This is why the words, the formation of words and how they are presented are important, because all of these words formed together give meaning and understanding.

Stories and storytelling are tools to free, heal, empower and teach. They also can provide us with a sanctuary.  Stories and storytelling can be transformative, which may generate a sense of peace in our lives.  Therefore, it is worthwhile to engage in a continuous discovery of stories that have the power to inspire, excite and influence each and every one of us.

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