Passion, love, hate, fear, hope.
The best stories spring from these sources because Life springs from these sources.
Stories and Life. Life and Stories.
One is the stuff of the other, and the other is the stuff of the one.
- Derrick Jensen
Stories matter because they answer the question, "What is it all about?" and therefore carry immense power.
A power Chimamanda Adichie calls, "nkali."
THE POWER OF STORIES:
Nkali is a noun and can be loosely translated as, "to be better than another." And stories, Adichie says, "are defined by the principal of nkali. How they are told, who tells them, when they're told, how many stories are told, are really dependent on power."
Storytellers are in a position of power because they are in a position to educate and to influence the minds of their listeners. According to various studies, when stories are told, the brain of the listener becomes more active than if listening to summaries or reports. Uri Hassan, a professor of Psychology at Princeton University, states that, "When we tell stories to others that have helped us shape our thinking and way of life, we can actually have the same effect on them too. The brains, " she continues, "of the person telling the story and listening to it, can synchronize," giving storytellers a tremendous amount of power, of nkali. The storyteller is in a position to malign or humanize, to inspire or destroy.
THE DANGER OF STORIES:
i am water
to offer life
to drown it away
- Rupi Kaur
Stories heard without hearing or read without reading, those we listen to or watch subconsciously for innocent or guilty pleasures can often have the greatest and most insidious influence upon us. As Alan Patan states, "In the deserted harbour there is yet water that laps against quays . . . Behind the polished panelling the white ant eats away the wood. Nothing is ever quiet, except for fools."
A short clip from the great film, "Liberal Arts" says the same:
I love Zibby's argument (who, crazy enough, is one of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen's sisters!!!), that reading is okay because even though "its not Tolstoy" it's not "television." Although to some level I agree (as far books being better than television), for the most part, she has a weak argument. Yes reading is better than watching TV, but stories we subconsciously read (and especially subconscious watch) because they are "fun and stupid" penetrate our minds, seep into our hearts, and drive our thoughts - they have a profound affect upon us. When we read just for the sake of pure entertainment, when we read without thinking, when we entertain ourselves with stories "just to pass the time" we build habits of polished panelling, while our minds are eaten away. In H.P. Order of the Phoenix, Dumbledore says it this way, "Indifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike."
There is a case to be made that he, Jesse Fisher, isn't fully correct either, and I wish we could hear his full argument, but his statement "people like things that are very very bad," is appropriate, even though perhaps snobbish, because it highlights the catalyst of dangerous reading: laziness.
Reading or watching or listening to entertaining stories for the sake of having fun and laughing is great - it's what makes life tolerable - but when done without question, without focusing on the paradigm that honors the value of stories, we lose respect for their power, allowing ourselves to fall victim to what Chimamanda Adichie calls single stories.
"Show a people as one thing," Adichie says, "and only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become." Children hearing stories of the atrocities and dangers of those who are different, over and over again, and that is what they become. Listen to fun and stupid jokes that are demeaning towards a particular people group, and that is what they become. Watch on the evening news, day in and day out, as it shows the catastrophe of Africa, a "place of beautiful landscapes, beautiful animals, and incomprehensible people, fighting senseless wars, dying of poverty and AIDS, unable to speak for themselves, and waiting to be saved, by a kind, white foreigner," and that is what it becomes. "Show a people as one thing and one thing only," this is how we seduce minds, this is how we create stereotypes.
And "the problem with stereotypes" Adichie continues, "is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the definitive story." Stereotypes seduce us into thinking a man or woman, a people group or a culture, can be easily defined or simply explained. Stereotypes lead us to believe that we have nothing in common with someone of a different color, from a different continent, or who worship in a different church, drowning the beauty of humanity under the disguise of stupid and fun. And millions of people like it.
THE PURPOSE of STORIES:
"Hearing a story" said David Isay, a world renown storyteller and collector, "from someone whom you might have thought is very different than you, and recognizing a little bit of yourself in that person, has tremendous potential to build bridges of understanding between people and hopefully someday move the needle on helping us recognize the power and grace and beauty in the stories we find all around us, when we take the time to listen."
Stories can teach us to ignore stereotypes and to applaud diversity, to draw together rather than pull apart, and evaluate our lives and selves. They reveal Truth.
Stories matter. They've been used to disposes and to malign, but they've also been used to empower and to humanize. They can teach us to be an empathetic and compassionate people who see the plank in our own eye before pulling the sliver out of our neighbor's.
Stories can help us discover who we are as individuals, who we are as a culture, and who we are as humans.