The Land of Story.
July 25, 2016 § 2 Comments
In the latest revision the label “story” was added.
Yes, the brain has allocated territory to the human habit of storytelling and story-listening.
Why? Brain real estate is valuable.
How do stories justify themselves when it comes to the bottom line, survival?
Stories organize the random chaos that is life into something coherent, manageable, hopeful; something worth the effort.
How? Story snips the endlessly unspooling thread of life into something shorter: it begins here, it ends here. And in between a problem is raised—and solved!
A story never begins: There once was a poor boy, and ends, and the old man died without a penny to his name. Stories shore up our courage by demonstrating that things change, and almost always for the better. This may not prove true in real life, but our willingness to believe is often enough to sustain us.
Even stories that relate actual events are polished and improved over time, morphing into the most dramatic and meaningful version of those real-life events.
The winners in any struggle control the story, which is why the European settlers who braved passage to a new world are not usurpers of land that was already settled, but the heroic inventors of that new world.
More local stories, those that belong to families, create solidarity, a loyalty to “us,”and, conversely, a suspicion about “them.” We tolerate, and even grow fond of, crazy Uncle Harry—after all, he is our crazy Uncle Harry.
Stories are the no-risk answer to the question, what if?
Stories that become part of a culture create and pass on our shared attitudes and beliefs: patriotism, prejudice, tolerance, God.
These shared stories are rooted in biology, fear, hope, and even truth, but it is the power of story itself that aggrandizes our inchoate fears and yearnings, inflating them like parade balloons, turning them into shared ideologies and sacred beliefs.
These are the stories we are willing to live and die for. Pitted against story, dry, provable fact doesn’t stand a chance.
Story slips past the gate-keeper of reason to enrage or charm our emotions.
Through story we can live myriad lives, not just the one that circumstance has allotted us. Story is the first teaching tool we reach for when passing our beliefs, morals and culture on to our children. Empathy almost always comes wrapped in a story.
Story can be the calm end of a day, a gift from parent to child. “Once upon a time…”
But it can also be dynamic, a lever that changes the direction of human thought, aspiration, and even history:
We are the master race.
If the rich get richer it will trickle down.
…and the three wise men followed the star.
Storytelling is the tool we are using right now to decide the course our country will take. Once we choose the narrative, the nation will quickly begin to shape itself to that story of hope or fear, becoming more inclusive or pulling up the ladder.
Story is the way we build both the walls and the bridges between us.
You will not get through this day without telling or hearing a story. It is the most effective, dangerous, healing tool we can reach for when dealing with each other. I am surprised that it has taken this long to locate its place on the map of the brain.
The Land of Story.
Note: Here is a link to the New York Times article about the new brain map. The mention of the story processing part of the brain is brief, so I guess this post is an example of how, with very little prodding, the mind turns almost anything into a story.