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Why do we tell stories?

To be human is to be a storyteller. When we see our friends or colleagues after an absence, we tell the story about what has happened since we were last together. Families gather and we tell our stories. Often we retell the old stories that everyone has heard before. “Remember the time when” is a frequent refrain.

When we say that we “don’t really know” someone, we mean that we don’t yet know his or her story.

Storytelling is as old as humankind. We have been storytellers for as long as we have had language to express our ideas. The tradition of telling stories, real or imagined, was both a form of entertainment and a way of preserving history in early societies. We use stories in many ways: to pass on important lessons, to explain how the world was shaped and created, to remember the events that we don’t want to forget. In early civilizations, every village had its own storyteller, an individual charged with remembering the stories and beliefs of the collective.

All of the world’s religions have story at their centre. Stories offer us new possibilities. Sometimes they show us what might be or could be. They offer us new ways in which to live. In that way stories are often healing for both the listener and the teller.

The power of stories lies in their ability to “let us in”. We can both come to own the story and also come to see ourselves within the story. Today therapists are discovering that stories can play an important role in healing individuals both emotionally and spiritually. Caregivers are learning the importance of encouraging the elderly and the terminally ill to tell their own personal stories as a way of bringing a sense of completeness and fulfillment as a life draws to its end.

At same time in schools, teachers are discovering the usefulness of story in the classroom. Even students with “short attention spans” are drawn into a well-told story and become better listeners. Storytelling can be used in many curriculum areas including language, social studies, science, drama and even mathematics. Stories have a way of sticking in our memories, partly because they tell about us.

While we have become accustomed in our society to finding our stories in books or on film, storytelling, as a tradition, continues in many societies around the world. Throughout North America there exist groups dedicated to preserving storytelling as entertainment and as an art form. In fact, in recent years there has been a revival of interest in storytelling as people rediscover how stories, well told, can both entertain, teach and even heal.

We will not all be drawn by the same stories, but each of us can find stories that speak to us and speak about us. The greatest joy can come in the searching for just the right tale!

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