When you tell a story, you spark a connection.
That is how humans have communicated since the beginning of time —by telling stories.
Stories have been told since even before humans learned to read and write.
Everyday events became stories to tell children, scribes and priests told stories of religious affairs, and leaders told heroic tales of their adventures.
These stories have passed on through generations: some of them fill up history books, some are integral to culture, and some are embedded in family values.
Why Are Stories Important?
Stories are central to human cognition and communication. We engage with others through stories, and storytelling is a lot more than just a recitation of facts and events.
As human beings, we are automatically drawn to stories because we see ourselves reflected in them.
We inevitably interpret the meaning in stories and understand ourselves better.
But we now live in the fast-paced information age, where information, concepts, and ideas continuously bombard us from every direction. Do stories really matter to us anymore?
Here are six reasons why stories have mattered and will continue to be essential to human existence.
Stories are universal
Every culture has stories to tell. These stories form the basis for how we think about the world and live our lives.
Stories preserve culture and pass on cultural knowledge from one generation to another. In essence, stories keep cultures alive.
Stories provide a timeless link to ancient traditions, legends, myths, and archetypes.
But they also connect us to universal truths about ourselves and our world.
Through stories, we share passions, fears, sadness, hardships, and joys, and we find common ground with other people so that we can connect and communicate with them.
Stories are universal, conveying meaning and purpose that help us understand ourselves better and find commonality with others.
Stories help us understand our place in the world
Stories transcend generations. They create connections with others. It is through stories that we experience rich emotions and feelings of joy, sorrow, hardships, and failures. We learn about behaviors and consequences.
Stories show us what we have in common with others, and we learn to engage with others in spite of our differences as we come to understand who they are and where we stand in this world.
Stories give us the opportunity to experience narratives in our imagination as if they were real, and feel raw emotion even though the reality of our experience is only in listening to the story.
Your brain experiences imagined narratives as if they were real. There is little difference between how our brain processes information when we read or hear stories and when we experience reality. To our brain, it’s all the same.
Stories help us create our identities as we tell stories of how we think, what we feel, and how we justify our decisions.
Through such rich experiences, we come to understand our unique perspective and our place in the world.
Stories help us learn how to act wisely
Stories make us human. There are a great many lessons to be learned from stories.
The human brain is hard-wired to communicate through stories. And through stories, we understand many aspects of life including social norms—that’s how we learn what is right and what is wrong, through lived experiences and stories.
Stories make learning effective, and that is why children engage so well with storytelling. Kids can’t wait to hear a good story because they’re naturally curious and want to learn more about the world.
We tend to remember and process information better when we hear or read a story because narratives reach deep into our psyche and provide a deeper understanding of concepts, thoughts, and ideas.
For centuries, stories have been used to pass on knowledge, and when important teachings are embedded in a story, we embrace that information uniquely because we tend to remember the underlying emotions in a story rather than the actual elements of that story.
When a story moves us, we are motivated to take action. And persuasion becomes unnecessary.
In its purest form, stories teach us good from bad, and how to act wisely with others in social situations and on a personal level, while we also learn about the consequences of not doing so.
Stories help shape our perspective of the world
Everyone has a story to tell. You have yours, and if you pay close attention to your story, you will realize that your stories are collections of your experiences.
It is your perspective that shapes the meaning of your stories.
In the same way, when you hear stories, you come to realize that you share the same fundamental experiences as others, and yet your experiences differ from each other because everyone has a different perspective.
Stories help us explain everything in our experience from science to relationships, from feelings to memories, and from questions to objections.
And with every story we hear, read, or listen, our mind makes cognitive and emotional connections that shape our perspective of the world.
The stories you tell shape your perception of the world, and your perception of the world shapes the stories you tell.
Stories help us understand other people and their perspectives
Have you noticed how you are drawn to someone when they tell their story? Or how people around you are attentive when you share a story about your own life?
Stories have a way of transporting us away from our realities, and our mind opens up to new experiences and perceptions of other people and how they think and feel. You’ll bore most people with a presentation about financial numbers, but just about any room of people will be captivated by a decent story told well.
Stories engage our attention and trigger our imagination. When you hear a story, you step out of your reality and place yourself in someone else’s shoes, and you get to experience their perspective and engage in their emotions, actions, and decisions. When you listen to a story of someone else’s life, it’s as if you’re living their story for those brief moments, and that experience allows you to learn from other people’s experiences.
Simply put, stories help you learn to empathize with other people as you come to understand their point of view.
In fact, research shows that reading makes you more empathetic.
Stories pass down knowledge and morals
We know that some of the most exceptional teachers and luminaries from different cultures have passed on wisdom throughout time, and they have done so primarily through stories. If you look at some of the most influential religious books or manuscripts of all time, you’ll notice they’re mostly “just” filled with stories. That’s because stories help us transfer knowledge and morals across thousands of generations. You might not recognize the words in the original writings of the bible, but you’ll certainly be able to empathize with characters like Joseph or Sarah if you read their stories.
If you want to transfer knowledge across many generations, the way to do so before the internet was to tell stories. And, even today, stories tend to win more attention than simple presentations.
Parables contain morals, which are basically patterns of behavior that work well in society and are passed on from one generation to another. This is incredibly valuable information, because if you don’t behave appropriately, you’ll become a social outcast, and that means you’ll lead a much less fulfilling and successful life.
If you’re already reasonably successful in life, then you have stories to thank for it, because that’s how you learned much of what you know, and that’s how your parents and ancestors learned too.
And because stories play such a foundational role in our culture and behavior, we will continue to pass on this knowledge to future generations through stories—whether new or old ones.
Why Stories Matter
Even as technology presents so many dynamic opportunities to create new content, humans will still crave stories so we can make sense of the world. The more information we create, the more valuable stories become, because without them we lose perspective on what matters. And in a world with more information than ever, it’s harder and harder to discern which information truly matters.
Stories help us solve that problem.
If you want to know how to solve a specific problem, you’ll need information, and you can get it from many sources and in many ways.
But if you want to know how to live well, you’ll need stories. And there’s no substitute for that other than living your own story, making mistakes, and learning as you go.
Stories will always matter, now and in the future.
So let us know, how have stories impacted your life? What’s your favorite story?