Why are humans so drawn to telling stories? What makes them such an integral part of our culture? With all the labor rights movements happening in the entertainment industry (the recently resolved Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) strike, the ongoing Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists strike, the unionisation of visual effects workers, etc), the importance of storytelling in our society has been brought to the forefront of a lot of our minds.
Storytelling is, first and foremost, a path to connection. Some would argue that it’s this drive for connection that makes us human. This need for connection is driven, in part, because we are naturally social creatures. Therefore, we are always seeking to understand one another. I once had a professor tell my class that you could never hate a person once you knew their whole story. His reason being that people build empathy through being exposed to narratives that are different than theirs. It is through this that one can find, not just differences, but similarities between themselves and other people. When people notice just how similar they are to each other, it makes it easier to come together and work towards a common goal.
Storytelling is also how we pass down knowledge in a memorable way. It provides the much-needed context and reasoning for how and why we do what we do. That context gives knowledge, meaning and a purpose. It is one thing, for example, to rattle off statistics from a report of what happened on 9/11. It is quite another to read a firsthand account of someone who was there that day. The latter gives insight as to how truly devastating the event was.
Storytelling is necessary in exercising our imagination. Through this creative process we can dream up fantastical situations with even more fantastical solutions. There are innumerous ways people have been inspired to invent or improve things by some sort of imaginary rendering explored in a story. Just look up “inventions inspired by Jules Verne” and you’ll be thoroughly surprised!
Storytelling is a good way to explore hard topics in a safe way. There is a lot of darkness that exists in this world, and the best way to shed light on certain powers is to talk about them. Some would argue that exposing people to the more unsavoury aspects of life is encouraging. I disagree. With exploration comes knowledge, and with knowledge comes understanding. And it is with understanding that we can better protect ourselves against the darkness that creeps into our lives.
Storytelling and humanity go hand in hand. You can’t really have one without the other. This has been proven true yet again with the resolution of the Writer’s Guild of America strike. With the threat of A.I. taking over their jobs, writers went on strike. It’s been a long 146 days of getting the company executives to understand that it’s not perfection that people are looking for in a story, they are looking for connection. And that is something that is uniquely human.