The Universe is Made of Stories.
The Storytelling Animal by Jonathan Gottschall attests to this, along with many other books and essays out there.
Our lives are held up, directed, pulled along, filled with meaning, and inspired by stories.
We tell ourselves stories in order to live. To add a sense of meaning and understand our lives. To communicate with our fellow humans, both face-to-face, and across cities, continents, and oceans. We tell and seek out stories to soothe ourselves, as well as to motivate and inspire.
Consider how deeply stories burrow themselves into our hearts, minds, daily interactions, and life at large, as illustrated by the following.
When a loved one asks, “how was your day?” Most of the time, we tell them some sort of story.
When we go on a date, we are telling stories about ourselves to another.
When we attend a job interview, we are asked questions and ultimately, are sharing mini-stories with our interviewer.
When we go speak with a therapist or counselor, we sum up various moments and experiences from our life in the form of stories.
When someone asks, “how was your vacation? What did you do?” You respond by sharing with them…you guessed it, stories.
In reading a book, an essay, a poem, even a resume, you are reading a story (in one sense or another).
When two people get into a fight and they each carry with them, their own personal narrative and perspective of what happened, both of these experiences and recollections are essentially stories.
Stories are memory aids, instruction manuals, and moral compasses. They are entertainment at its finest, life lessons, cautionary tales, and exercises in empathy and shared understanding. Stories are doors slightly ajar, and open windows with a swatch of a scene from outside beckoning.
Our lives revolve around story.
Even as the body goes to sleep at night, our minds fill with imagined scenes and narratives.
Reading the stories of others connects us with one another. Tales of fellow human experience offer us alternate ways of considering the world, potential other ways of thinking and being. Stories can ignite empathy and compassion within our hearts, dropping us into the perspective and experience of another, one we likely will never have the chance to live ourselves. Fiction does all of this too since most fiction is based on themes of human experience and truth.
We all have things to teach one another.
We all have much to learn from one another.
The key is listening close. Being open to these lessons, experiences, and perspectives of another. Maintaining a hunger and interest for those lessons on offering.
This is why, in a way, book reviews and the opinions of critics are essentially a moot point. Because for every single piece of art produced, whether a novel, poem, painting, photography expose, song, memoir, you name it, someone is going to hate it. All while others will find meaning in and love it.
For quite literally every single piece of art, even those claimed as being “the best” (Pulitzer Prize winners, New York Times bestsellers, National Book Award winners, you get the idea), there are still long lists of people who hated these stories. Who found them rife with flaws and repellant content.
It often seems as though today, critics and the rest of us everyday citizens are chomping at the bit to want to critique, review, and rip apart every story we read. Yeah, it was decent, but…(queue long list of gripes with how the story was flawed, offensive, and possibly even failed miserably).
Instead, why not read a story with a more open heart and mind? With less of an opinionated, critical eye, and instead, one hungry for the insights and life lessons on offer. Because within every single story, there are at least a few treasures for the taking.
Understand that every single piece of art will be flawed. That pointing this out is remarking on the obvious and unavoidable.
Then decide instead, to take from each story the gems offered up which you might then integrate into your own life, perspectives, and heart. Feel free to discard the rest.
The stories of others can lead to immense growth and a widening of understanding within each of us (if we are so interested in and open to it).
The news and media tell us (high curated and carefully crafted) stories, and in doing so, shape how we see the world, our society and culture, and as a result, influence our choices and behaviors.
Each friendship throughout our life, every romantic relationship we’ve experienced, the familial relationships we have which matter to us (sibling, parent, you name it), each of these is a story.
We, as humans, need stories. Our lives hinge on them.
Stories teach us how to relate to others, how to live.
They introduce in our minds, places we might never have known to exist.
They offer up life paths we might never have considered possible.
They help us to ponder our relationships with others in a new light.
Stories can humble us. They show us where we were wrong. They can shine a light on and illuminate the ways in which we might be going about something in a harmful or hurtful way. They offer up new lessons for chewing on.
Stories help guide our lives and our hearts.
They offer up new knowledge, inspiration, ideas, emotional solace, and guidance for the taking.
The fastest way to a deep connection with others, as well as much growth and learning in your own life?
Maintain a genuine, sustained, powerful interest in books, as well as the stories of other people you meet.
For humans, there is no greater power on this earth than that which stories offer us.
What are we but our stories?