The Power of Stories

Aimee - Concord, New Hampshire
Entered on March 4, 2009

I believe in stories. Everyone has a story – tragedies, comedies, romances, dramas. We learn how to tell our story, how to use words, body language, and verbal inflections to grab the listener’s attention and keep it; how to determine what part of our story the listener wants to hear.

My two-month-old infant has just learned how to use her vocal cords to create cacophony. When she starts this verbose entourage of cooing and gurgling, I ask her what kind of story she is telling the world. I listen aptly as her eyebrows move up and down, her mouth twists into shapes, and her arms and legs flap about, and nonsensical but adorable sounds weave a fine tale. Soon, she will learn to string her sounds into words, words into fragments, then into sentences, and then stories.

My hope is that my child has struck gold in her genetic lottery and has inherited the swirl of DNA that carries her grandfather’s capacity for story telling. My father can make the most mundane of experiences – a trip to the bank or making a sandwich – into a fable with an anticipatory beginning, a thick middle, and a surprising end. If she acquires and exercises this talent, whether through the spoken or the written word, she will have the power to captivate the people around and get them to listen. If she learns how to relay a whispered story hiding in the shadows of the dominant, roaring stories, she can make change in this society.

Our society believes in the existence of one truth. Scientists busy themselves with experiments, labs, measurements and statistics in hopes of revealing that one holy truth. I believe in stories that rebel against certainty. Stories take us on a journey in which there are many truths, many voices competing to be heard from different places and perspectives in our constantly changing world. Stories encourage the proliferation of questions, rather than the supplying of answers. Stories allow us to embrace the multiplicity and intricacy that is life.

I believe that storytelling is risky; it forces vulnerability. The storyteller must accept relinquishing control of the story once it enters the world. The listener acquires the power to interpret, understand, and fill in gaps. Listeners have a choice – to ignore or embrace an opportunity to grow into a different view of the world. If a story has the power to pull someone in, a connection is made and another person’s story might emerge. The storyteller and the listener then take turns in each role, simultaneously inspiring, enlightening, and challenging each other.

I believe that when words are artfully and evocatively woven together, they can color the subject matter in such a way that the story can be shouted out into the world and create meaningful change. A powerful narrative can connect human beings across race, class, gender, ability, religion, age, and experience and be in and of itself, an act of consciousness-raising. I believe in stories as a catalyst for change.