Stories are ubiquitous in our contemporary cultures and societies. We meet them in form of movies, books, paintings, music and digital media contents. Stories form the essence of our awareness, they define our way of thinking and how we see the world, they determine our values, fears, desires and dreams. As Rob Biesenbach in his research on storytelling once said: “Stories are all around us. We may not recognise them, but they’re there - just waiting to be found, shaped and shared.”
Certainly, we all love a good story. Stories can keep us awake at night to finish a book, watch a movie or binge-watch Netflix. A good story takes us on imaginative journeys, draws us in and engage us in unique ways like little else. There is something about a good story that makes us want more out of it. But what is it exactly is the power of stories and storytelling and why do we feel so engaged when we hear a story?
The history of storytelling
The origins of storytelling root back to ancient times and are overshadowed by the mist of time. The American folklorist Jack Zipes stated that humans have been telling stories since the earliest days. Therefore, storytelling did not begin when we had developed the ability to speak, but even before that in forms of sign language. In that sense, the oldest discoveries of storytelling were found as cave paintings dating 36000 years ago and also Egyptian hieroglyphics present a later form of visual storytelling.
Traditionally, the ancient stories have been handed over orally from generation to generation, probably told over the flickering fire. As our ancestors grouped together to form families and clans, the person telling and keeping the old stories alive was typically simultaneously the most respected and most powerful person in the clan. They shared the stories about the heroic and important events of their tribe, which essentially formed the base of their collective identity and sensation of belonging.
Back then, stories came in the form of mystified fairy tales, myths, legends, fables and various other kinds of stories. Ancient stories are believed to have been used to give messages to future generations to warn them about danger and to explain failure and inexplicable and confusing events, such as disasters in natures, for example storms, fire or floods.
In the early days, people highly believed in stories about the existence of gods and higher forces which made stories a connecting tie between them and their common beliefs and heritages.
As our ancestors were dominantly unsettled and travelling clans, the stories travelled with them and were enriched with new morals and new tales of exciting adventures and exotic places that were again told and retold. Consequently, for most historians storytelling is one of the most important aspects that define our humanity and our collective identity.
The power of storytelling
However, it is also believed that the oral stories may not have made their way into our modern consciousness without the written language which made it possible to spread the stories widely across the world. The rest is history - Nowadays, we tell stories through multiple ways of oral storytelling, written words and visual illustration. Stories are what we get told when we grow up and beyond being pure entertainment, they teach us between right and wrong and accompany us in nearly all aspects of life. But what is so powerful about storytelling that artefacts of ancient tribes are still ubiquitous for us today?
In his book Unleash the Power of Storytelling: Win Hearts, Change Minds, Get Results Rob Biesenbach describes that in a world of noise, hype and information overload, stories are what cut through the clutter and influence people though conveying a message. Despite all the fast-paced technologies and developments in today’s world, our brains still react to content by looking for a story to make sense out of any experience we make. In other words, our intuition and subconsciousness seeks for authenticity. Stories in the early days as well as today are authentic human experiences. There are several psychological reasons about the power of storytelling.
One of the most powerful aspects of stories is that they present identification potential. We love stories because we can imagine ourselves in them, they can make us feel something and empathize with the narrative. A good story takes us on a roller coaster journey of excitement, joy, fear and the whole spectrum of emotions in between. Stories have the capability to engage our right brain which triggers our imagination. By that, we become active participants in the story’s narrative instead of remaining passive listeners. Through this imagination, we see different and feel empathy for others and develop creativity which eventually creates the foundation for self-discovery and change.
Symbols and order
A story places an order of events into a set framework which makes a narrative structure familiar, safe and predictable. Common orders and characteristics of tales and stories are for example a characteristic opening and ending of a story as well as typical good and evil figures. Within this known framework of storytelling, we can withstand emotions better as we are aware that a conflict is typically followed by a resolution. This arrangement creates an easier understanding of a story and makes it easier to identify with the narrative. This allows people a certain amount of control and power to navigate the perception of their audience when telling a story.
Just as in the early days, stories help us to make meaning out of our lives. Through the specific schemas, narratives and metaphors provided in tales and stories we can make sense of the world around us, explain how things work, how we make and justify decisions, define and communicate social values, shape our identities and understand our place in this world.
Stories have the capability to connect us like little else. Regarding the history of storytelling, we can see stories as a connecting tie that binds us as humans together. Stories are where we come from and they are where we are going. Stories allow us to share our human emotions and experiences of love, sadness, fear or failure They allow us to understand ourselves better and make us feel the same as others to find our commonality.
Connection with the universal soul
The history of storytelling shows that stories have always been a primal form of communication for humans and is timelessly linked to our ancient heritage and ancient myths and traditions. By that, stories have the power to naturally connect us to our universal soul and truth.
Experiencing the power of storytelling
If you want to experience the power of storytelling in a group setting, a beautiful way to do so is by visiting our special class The Voyage of Tales Live Music & Storytelling. Let Barbara Falorni, Laura Lotti and Frans Moussault take you once a month on a Saturday from 20:00-21:30 on a unique journey of music and storytelling. A journey of the imagination, a journey of the soul and experience a co-creation between the teller and the audience that you’ve never experienced before.
Time to book your ticket and join us for the next session at The Conscious Club: http://theconsciousclub.com/book-now!
Written by Annika Heinemeyer