Why is it that we can remember a long story about the life of Moses, an intricate tale filled with burning bushes, plagues and parting seas, yet we can’t remember ten short little Commandments?
I believe this is because we are story creatures, hard-wired to receive and remember stories not lists of information. Since stories have the extraordinary power to help us survive, heal, and grow, I believe our brains have evolved to catch and hold stories like an insect trapped in a spider’s web.
I guess there’s no better way to explain this than with a story. Once upon a time, I believe there were only two tribes of people living on the earth: the story tribe and the list tribe. The elder of the list tribe told his tribespeople a list of 17 different things to do when one sees a lion. The elder of the story tribe told his tribespeople a story about how he successfully eluded a lion by climbing up a tree, pelting it with rocks and curses and then, after spending a leisurely night in the tree, returned to the ground in the morning once the animal had retreated in search of easier prey.
At this point, members of both tribes went out hunting and gathering, as they were prone to do. When the list tribespeople confronted a lion, they tried to remember the list of 17 items that needed to be done when one sees a lion, and unfortunately, they forget what was on that list and were soon devoured. However, the story tribespeople remembered the wonderful story their elder told them of the night he spent up in a tree, they found a tree and imitated the actions depicted in his story, and they avoided being eaten.
Thus, today, I believe that all of us left on this good earth are descendants of the story tribe. We value the bible for its stories and we value our great teachers for their storytelling ability. We constantly yearn to grow, to learn, to change and it is stories that instruct us how. We love it when a story takes us to another place or time. We gladly pay twelve dollars for a good movie or twenty-five dollars for a good novel or a hundred dollars for a good play if we believe that we might be transported and transformed by the story.
I also believe that we construct the narratives that rule our lives and so, by changing our stories, we can change our lives. And so I tell all my students, even if your fifth grade English teacher told you that you can’t write, don’t allow that to be the story that governs your actions. Rewrite it. Change your narrative so that your story has a happy ending.
Think about your story, think about the stories you live by, and think about what stories you want to rewrite. Be bold. Be daring. Change your story and in doing so, shine a little light upon the world; this I believe.
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