Thursday, 17 September 2015

Why Stories Are Important

I'll recuse myself right now: I love stories.  There's almost no format I don't enjoy exploring a story with: books, short stories, movies, TV shows, comics, plays, dance, I like it all.

This is why it irritates the heck out of me when I hear something dismissed as "just a story" as if it could never be significant or important.  To me, the story is always what makes it interesting and significant.  Statistics can give you a good overview and a general idea, but it is the individual stories which touch our hearts.

I can read all the scholarly articles about the failures of low-income area schools and the importance of using athletics to help kids escape those areas, but it won't have the impact of reading or watching The Blind Side and connecting with Michael Oher's individual story.  Without the ability to play football, he would have been trapped in a cycle of poverty and hopelessness.  I've read the book and watched the movie and it gave me a little glimpse of what it is like to be discriminated against and to be entirely dependent on a single set of skills to succeed in life.

I don't pretend I understand all of the nuances, but the story opened a small window allowing me a greater level of understanding than I had before.  That is what stories can do and when they're done well, they can change everything about how you see and understand the world.

The story doesn't even have to be true.  Some of the greatest opportunities to explore different issues are explored through fiction.  I'm partial to science fiction and fantasy myself, which has a reputation for tackling social challenges under the guise of aliens and monsters.  I've heard veterans talk about Lord of the Rings as representative of what it's like to go into combat with friends.  They connect with Frodo and Samwise as they struggle in the middle of a larger conflict.  They can identify with their struggle to work with Gollum, whom they don't trust but still need, a situation which can frequently happen in the life and death arena of active service.

Exploring different stories gives me the opportunity to move beyond my own limited experience.  It's like living thousands of different lives.  I can be a man, a woman, a child, different races, and different species.  I can fight in wars, build homes, solve crimes, learn music, run all sorts of businesses, fall in love, forgive old wrongs, raise children, do magic, and hundreds of other experiences.  Stories give me the chance to be and do anything I or anyone else can imagine.  And that is significant.

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