The power of story
I think I have always been aware of the power of story. When I was a young chap I used to make up tales of heroism and great deeds, of spaceships and monsters of the deep. I was aware of the joy that I felt in creating these tales, and aware also of the effect that they might one day have on others. I am much older now, though not much wiser, and I still enjoy making up stories. Although I feel the same love of story, something quite fundamental has changed along the way: I have come to realise just how important stories are in our lives, how they can effect change in attitudes and behaviours, how they connect us and teach us, and how they remind us all that we share this world and share the trials and tribulations that come with it.
For me this moment of realisation came when I first read Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. I won’t go into any of the details of this wonderful story, as I am sure you have read it yourself, but I will say that it did something to me. I was deeply affected by a sense of melancholy and also of the certain knowledge that there were other people out there who felt as if they did not fit in the world – isolated, sad creatures that felt a deep sense of loss for something unknown. That was how I felt as a young teenager, and here was a story written by a man born in Saint Paul, Minnesota, in the United States in 1896 sharing with me that sense of melancholy and loss for something unnameable. This feeling was nothing short of a miracle. I was not alone, and not only that but this chap was able to articulate what I was unable to do for myself. What a thing!
Fitzgerald was just the first in a long line of wonderful writers who have kept me company throughout my life. They have shared with me and articulated for me what I have been unable to articulate for myself. They have shared their secrets with me in the quite of night, in times of stress and despair, and as I sit atop mountains and beside great oceans. They have spoken to me of love and of death. They have spoken softly to my soul about loss and what it means to accept what cannot be changed. These brave men and women have shared what is inside of them so that I might know that we are all made of the same matter, all made of stars and all made to perish. I am not alone, and I have not been alone for many, many years.
Sometime back I took on the role of International Editor for a project called World Stories. I had the pleasure of spending several years talking with writers from all across the globe. I got to learn about narratives from across Europe, the African Continent, Asia, India, Mexico, and countless others countries that all enjoy a long and lasting relationship with story, and oral narratives in particular. I soon realised that most of the stories I was hearing were created for a reason. They did not simply entertain, they existed to educate, to nurture understanding and communication. They were cautionary tales and morality tales; they were lessons in life passed from one generation to the next. This is the true power of story.
I look around these days and I worry that the younger generation is missing out on story. Parents read less and less to their children, computers and phones and laptops are replacing books, and we seem to live in a world that is increasingly about isolation rather than integration and community. Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps it is not as bad as it seems to me. The thing is, I have spent several years now visiting schools across the country and talking to young people about story, and what concerns me is how little engagement there is with story. And yet, if you give these talented young people a chance, if you nurture curiosity and bravery and confidence, I have found that these same young people are all too willing to share a story with me and with fellow students. That is the power of story. It does not go away. It does not die. It is overshadowed by new trends, by laziness and television and busy lifestyles and social media, but it is always there inside of us because that is how we communicate with one another, and that is how we grow and move forwards in the world.
That is why this website is so wonderful, because it celebrates story and community and the sharing of ideas and experience. And I see it as an opportunity for older folks to share their knowledge and stories with young people, to share the power of story and reach out and let another human being know that they are not alone no matter what age they are. Indeed, the very act of my writing this article is a reminder to myself that I am not alone, that I am talking with you and sharing my thoughts with you. And I hope that you will do the same, and perhaps even respond to this article so that a dialogue begins.
I believe that story has never been more important, that sharing and communicating has never been more vital to the growth and survival of society. I will always be indebted to that man born in Saint Paul, Minnesota, for sharing his story with me, and I hope that Silver Robin might also reach out and make others feel less alone. Because that is what story does and that is its everlasting power.