Monday, February 10, 2014

The power of Once Upon a Time

 The Storytelling Animal: how stories make us human by Jonathan Gottschall is a fantastic read about the perpetual story craving and creating that humans imbibe in constantly.

This is more for professional reading rather than for kids.  For all us story junkies this is a wonderful validation for our addictions but it also informs us as to the power of this addiction, too.

Humans need stories to help us figure out life.

And story is everywhere.

This is not just about reading stories.  It’s about seeing and listening to stories, as well.

The author recounts how a country song (not his usual musical milieu) had him in tears. The song is about a  young man meeting his girlfriend’s parents and realizing that the little girl dressed as a princess in the photos in the room is his girlfriend as a child and that he is taking something away from the father - that he is stealing the princess.  Jonathan Gottschall wanted to delve into knowing more about why this story had affected him so strongly.

So delve he does, into the nature, manner and opportunities where humans indulge in story.  Child’s play, dreaming, and everyday life with us featuring as the heroes: all  is story telling and story making and it comes to us as naturally as breathing air.

I really tapped into a chapter entitled Ink People Change the World for a couple of workshops that I've just done about the nature and power of stories. Education instructors wanted their student-teachers to explore this idea and think about how to capitalize on it when they will be teaching children in their own classrooms.

Gottschall tells true stories about real people being affected so strongly by a story that it gives them some life-changing insight.

Apparently, Hitler, as a sixteen-year-old, heard Wagner’s opera Rienzi and it so moved him he told a friend that his destiny had been revealed to him.  “He was talking of a mandate which, one day, he would receive from the people, to lead them out of servitude to the heights of freedom.” (p.140). Hitler told many of his inner circle that the opera “was when it all began” (p.142).  Because of Wagner’s brilliance as a composer, Hitler also tapped into some of Wagner’s political and personal beliefs – extreme German nationalist and strong anti-Semitism.

Besides anecdotal evidence, recent research does support the impact of stories and their influence:.

Fiction does mold our minds. Story –whether delivered through films, books, or video games – teaches us facts about the world; influences our moral logic; and marks us with fears, hopes, and anxieties that alter our behaviour, perhaps even our personalities. (p. 148)


In fact, fiction seems to be more effective at changing beliefs than nonfiction, which is designed to persuade through argument and evidence. (p.150)

And, one more

When we read nonfiction, we read with our shields up.  We are critical and skeptical.  But when we are absorbed in a story, we drop our intellectual guard.  We are moved emotionally, and this seems to leave us defensiveness. (pp.151-152)

I find all of this fascinating.  Stuff that I intuit but couldn't necessarily articulate let alone prove, is all here.  Story is important and it does shape us.

It kinda makes sense why people who are against same-sex couples get their knickers in a knot when they read a book like And Tango Makes Three, doesn't it?


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