Why Do We Tell Stories?

Desert bird

Because in our mind’s eye there may be an impossibly blue bird, with pink wings, swooping over a hot and dusty desert, drinking red nectar from cactus blossoms. Where did it come from and where is it going? Who knows, maybe that bird transforms into a dragon when attacked? In other words, we imagine. We envision.

We humans are social creatures, even the most introverted and shy of us. We watch our fellow creatures. Watch and listen and wonder. Ask why and what if? We make sense of it through telling ourselves a story.

That old woman is frowning over a letter as she sits on the park bench because, oh no! She’s reading an eviction notice. Losing her apartment of 38 years to a demolition and redevelopment project. Total disruption. Wouldn’t you frown too?

Two teenage girls meet at a school locker and exchange smiles and hugs, chattering quickly. Then one shows the other a picture on her phone and suddenly the locker door is slamming loudly and one girl is running, crying, for the door. What just happened here? What is the story?

That old dog, with the age whitened muzzle and the deep brown eyes, lying with his head on the foot of his owner as a young dog nearby leaps and barks and runs to get a ball thrown by a small boy. Is the old gentleman dog irritated by the young pup? Is he happily reminded of his own younger, boisterous self? Is he simply content to feel the sun on his back, sniff the air, and rest his jaw on a beloved foot? And how did the first dog gain entrance into the human circle? When, with whom, and how was that bond first forged?

Curiosity. Making sense. Soothing our fears. Explaining big questions. Entertaining ourselves. And connecting us with heart bonds and empathy.

These are some of the functions of storytelling. So, pay attention to the world today. Notice the human stories and questions that pop up around you, in the grocery checkout line, at the coffee shop, in the doctor’s waiting room, at the red light in traffic, at the art museum as you marvel over an oil painting or marble statue or a tiny jade carving. Let yourself wonder and let stories flow.

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