Storytelling is a powerful tool with vital functions in learning as well as in the cultivation, documentation, and exportation of human culture. Most fundamentally, I understand a story as a description of a discrete number of events related via a causal or temporal dimension, i.e. time. Movies, tv series, music, and literature are effective storytelling techniques that serve many of the same functions. Those functions include entertainment as well as the expression of values and behaviors that reflect the creators’, characters’, or the cultural context of the story.
Not only are stories useful for connecting causal events in a plot, but they are also a powerful way to convey meaning and evoke emotions in the minds of their audience. By doing so, stories add meaning and structure to an otherwise meaningless reality. Not all events in a plot have the same importance, and creating a story includes choosing which events to emphasize and link to other ones.
I further believe that the power of stories transcends art and communication. Stories, in general, shape our perception of reality. Stories provide us with narrative models that we internalize and use as mental, visual, lingual, or behavioral examples to compare to the “real world” in order to construct our own worldview. We don’t understand the events around us objectively. We instead rely on the interpretations based on our senses, our previous knowledge, and the processing of our minds, resulting in a story. The advantage of this process is that it creates a logical coherence that is not necessarily consistent with the seemingly chaotic nature of the world. Our lives, for instance, do not happen in stories, but in a seamlessly continuous flow of conscious experience that cannot be isolated. Our understanding of our lives, on the other hand, tends to be through creating stories, or narratives, that help us frame and understand our past, evaluate our current state, and make future decisions.
One of the reasons I enjoy writing is the inherent impossibility of being perfectly and accurately understood by another mind. So writing and storytelling is my way of framing and sharing my outlook on the world and human nature. When I try to remember how I acquired most of my core values, I realize that they have almost always been learned through stories, fictional or otherwise. This leads me to believe that the human mind is optimized to learn through stories. So, the next time you want to easily and effectively teach, influence, or connect with someone, try telling them a good story instead of a stream of facts.