I occasionally ponder the purpose of storytelling. Sure it’s entertaining and gives people an escape from their lives. But other than that? Is it simply frivolous?
A taste of the answer came to me recently during a nearly two-hour drive for a medical test. Leaving my town in this particular direction, there’s only one brief stretch where I can’t receive radio reception. The rest of the way, I happily listen to CBC, switching from frequency to frequency when the station gets overwhelmed by fuzz.
On this drive, I listened to stories. Non-fiction, of a woman in Afghanistan escaping a marriage arranged in childhood and her family who is committed to killing her, then another of sexual harassment on the streets of New York.
I soaked them in. I could picture the many times I’d been harassed on the streets of Montreal when I was younger—nothing major, but still. And while I couldn’t envision my family wanting to murder me, I was enveloped by the Afghan woman’s story and could empathically feel.
And there’s the kicker: feel.
When the next show came on, inviting people to call in to give opinions on a subject I can’t even remember, I tuned out. I groan at call-in shows. Who cares about dry, boring opinions? Either you’re preaching to the converted or raising people’s hackles. Will you ever really change a mind?
But couch those opinions in a story… Make us feel. Take us on the journey. Let us change alongside you. Then we might come away and understand.
The journey may be to somewhere we never expect to go. In Enchanted, I tagged alongside a murderer. In Something Fierce, a Chilean revolutionary. In A House in the Sky, a Canadian hostage in Africa. In I’ll Give You the Sun, a gay boy.
While I never expect or hope to be in these situations (and biologically can’t, in the last instance), I can now, at least slightly, understand. From the comfort of home, I’ve touched my toe to those waters.
The video “What Is Literature For?” sums it up nicely—and in a more storytelling manner than any blog post could do. Here are a couple of its tidbits of wisdom on the merits of literature:
It gives us access to a range of emotions and events that it would take you years, decades, millennia to try to experience directly.
It performs the basic magic of showing us what things look like through someone else’s point of view.
The article “The Psychological Comforts of Storytelling” also confirms and gives additional thoughts:
Storytelling, especially in novels, allows people to peek into someone’s conscience to see how other people think. This can affirm our own beliefs and perceptions, but more often, it challenges them.
Why do you think storytelling is important?
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