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Stories and How They Shape Us

Why the stories we consume and the stories we tell matter

Stories and How They Shape Us

Tell me a story

What is it about stories that grabs us? Stories are all around us – in books, in movies, on our social media platforms, and in our minds determining how we remember the past, how we interpret the present, and how we see the future. I’m not sure we ever fully realize just how much stories are a part of our lives.

We use stories to understand and to share what we have learned. We use stories as a way to relate to and empathize with one another. We use stories to inform. We use stories for escape. We use stories to create hope. We use stories to connect. We use stories to help define ourselves and figure out our place in the world. Stories are all around us.

A case for stories

For a class that I am taking on teaching and learning strategies, we were introduced to the concept of using case studies for teaching. Don’t worry, I’m not going to make you learn all the great details about them. You are welcome. But, essentially, a case study is a type of story created (real or imagined) that aims to involve a learner in such a way that they are able to step into the role of a main character and are forced to solve a problem or dilemma as if they were that person.

What I found interesting, is that a big part of why case studies work is because of their story-like nature. This is what seems to set them apart from many other ways of teaching and learning about something.

This got me to thinking. What is it about stories that grabs us so quickly?

Stories and our brains

According Jonassen (2011), the story-like nature of case studies makes them engaging, relevant, and easier to comprehend – as opposed to presenting information randomly.

According to an article from the New York Times Sunday Review, stories have the unique ability to activate many parts of our brains, as if what we are reading is actually happening. In fact, the more rich the details, the more activated our brains become (Paul, 2012).

Stories have this incredible ability to take us into the thoughts and feelings of others. They embed and engross us into the social and emotional inner lives of others and allow us the ability to explore and understand someone’s desires, challenges, intentions, and actions (Paul, 2012).

According to another article at Psychology Today, stories allow us to understand that “others have beliefs, desires, and intentions that are different from one’s own” (Bergland, 2014).

A story about stories: Our place in the universe

A wonderful writing by teacher and librarian, Wayne Cherry, Jr., points out that for as long as we know, people have tried to understand their world by using stories. And, that even today, we use stories to try to understand why things happen (2017).

He points out that “Stories have power, and the stories we tell today do just as much to try to explain our world as did the myths of so long ago” (Cherry, 2017).

Stories provide us with insight.

Cherry also points out that important aspects of learning such as critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity all correspond with storytelling.

Can you image your day and your life without stories? I can’t.

Our stories

What I loved in particular about Wayne Cherry’s message was his story about stories. He shared a quote from a book that reminds us that no one sees the world in the same way that we do. And, that each experience is unique and that adults with their years of experience and children with their fresh new perspectives, have the ability to shape each other’s views. I love that.

He says “I believe with all of my heart that when anyone tells a story, that person changes a life.” (Cherry, 2017)

What are you making this mean?

A couple of years ago, I was doing an exercise with a trainer on questioning your beliefs. When someone would relay something that was upsetting them, she would ask them “what are you making this mean?”

For me, the power of stories makes a clear case for being intentional about what stories we allow in and what stories we decide to tell. If our brains react as if we are really experiencing a story, if stories shape how we see our worlds, if stories help us to empathize with one another and understand how complex others’ lives can be, if stories put us in the place of someone else and force us to have to deal with their problems and take actions and make decisions on their behalf, what stories would we decide to consume and which ones would we decide to tell? Wouldn’t this change how we see each other? And, if our stories are unique to each of us and our perspective has the power to change a life – shouldn’t we use this for good?

Final thoughts

I, just as much as anybody, have a world full of stories – some good, some bad, but mostly good. In our lives today, we have an enormous amount of access to stories of all types. The power of stories can be felt and according to what I’ve shared here, they literally affect our brains. Knowing that, I hope that more stories of triumph, connection, positivity, problem-solving, love, and progress prevail. It is so easy to get caught up in the enormous amount of negative information coming our way.

One person I follow was asked about how he would try to make the world more positive. He replied that “positivity is everywhere, we just need to make it louder”.

Resources:

Bergland, C. (2014). Reading Fiction Improves Brain Connectivity and Function. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/201401/reading-fiction-improves-brain-connectivity-and-function

Cherry Jr, W.R. (2017). Our place in the universe: The importance of story and storytelling in the classroom. Knowledge Quest, 46(2). Retrieved from https://eds-a-ebscohost-com.libproxy.usouthal.edu/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=2&sid=e156b6fd-2cba-4f9d-820a-e58733a0c0f9%40sessionmgr4009

Jonassen, D.H. (2011). Learning to Solve Problems: A handbook for designing problem-solving learning environments (chapter 10). New York: Routledge.

Paul, A.M. (2012). Your brain on fiction. The New York Times: Sunday Review. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/18/opinion/sunday/the-neuroscience-of-your-brain-on-fiction.html

Video:

Vaynerchuk, Gary. (2017). Make Positivity Louder: A Gary Vaynerchuk Original.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lQ3oOMfizEk

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