Why Are Stories So Powerful?

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By: Will Blasingame, Editor

Whether for good or for evil, narratives are one of the most powerful tools humans have to inspire others. This may be used to inspire people to live a fulfilling life, loving God and others, or it may be used to inspire hate as in the case of propaganda in Nazi Germany. But rather than merely marvel at the power of narrative, I want to find what gives narrative its power.

Ease and Depth of Understanding

Have you ever read a dense nonfiction book that makes you want to yawn and fall asleep in bed? If so, you notice that stories or examples are rarely mentioned and when they are, it is suddenly much easier not only to stay awake, but also to understand.

Discussing abstract reasoning without using any concrete examples, analogies, or metaphors is exhausting. The events that transpire around us are rooted in a lower, more basic part of our brain as opposed to understanding abstract concepts which require more energy. The metaphors that are related in narratives are able to transmit information that require a low level of energy to understand and that, given enough time, can evoke a natural abstract thought that we more fully understand. Furthermore, when understanding the metaphors behind stories with our intellect, emotions, and subconscious rather than just our pure intellect. This allows us to more easily translate this version of knowledge into action. As a consequence, these stories in a way a moved from fiction into reality through us. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Jesus chose to present so much of his teaching in parables.

Fun of Listening or Reading

One of Aesop’s fables goes as follows:

“Demades the orator was once speaking in the Assembly at Athens; but the people were very inattentive to what he was saying, so he stopped and said, ‘Gentlemen, I should like to tell you one of Aesop’s fables.’ This made everyone listen intently. Then Demades began: ‘Demeter, a Swallow, and an Eel were once travelling together, and came to a river without a bridge: the Swallow flew over it, and the Eel swam across’; and then he stopped. ‘What happened to Demeter?’ cried several people in the audience. ‘Demeter,’ he replied, ‘is very angry with you for listening to fables when you ought to be minding public business.’”

While this fable is funny, it goes to show that people are not only willing, but excited to listen to stories, but why? People are eager to listen to stories because frankly, it is fun. We vicariously experience the story and receive the same dopamine rushes that the protagonist does. This means that we share in the success and failures of someone who may not even exist, and this ability allows us to enjoy art, movies, theater, and stories.

Ability to Connect with the Protagonist

In The Arabian Nights, nearly every story involves someone relating their own history to someone that, upon hearing it, spares their life or even gives up something they own to aid the storyteller. This is because the audience shares the human experience with the storyteller and are thus quick to listen to the reasoning behind a characters actions. Even when the protagonist does something we disapprove of, we want them to repent and be the best that they can be and are relatively quick to forgive them.

There are plenty of literary techniques that capitalize on human psychology in a way that makes stories more powerful, more relatable, and more fun, but the basic power of stories comes from these fundamental human aspects.

I believe there is an ultimate narrative that we are a part of: how God redeems the world through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus. The most basic archetypes foundational to our understanding of the world are manifested completely in this ultimate narrative. The redemption and eventual glorification of everything is perfected in Jesus and can be repeated on a smaller scale in each of our lives if we submit to the ultimate purpose in a life with Jesus.

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