Why do people tell stories? There’s the obvious reason that people tell stories for entertainment. But entertainment doesn’t account for the thousands of repeated stories we tell only ourselves.
Storytelling is a transformation ritual. They are tools that are ment to get you from the person you are to the person you are aiming at becoming. Similar to how art is a way of healing your wounds while simultaneously exposing them. If that sounds like a plausible enough motive for storytelling, I’ll take it one step further and say, every judgment you make about yourself is a story.
There are the stories that build walls:
- “I could never do anything like that.”
- “I don’t believe in love like that.”
- “Maybe one day, if I get lucky.”
And there are stories that build bridges:
- “If not me, who?”
- “I’ll make it happen. I have too.”
- “Who is going to stop me?”
The entire mental model you have to yourself is a tangled mess of stories, and you are telling those stories for a reason.
The elephant’s dilemma is a sad but beautiful story:
I once went to a circus and saw a huge elephant tied to a small pole with a rope, just standing there. So I wondered why the elephant is so obedient and doesn’t break away from the stick with all of its enormous strength and mass.
So they told me this story: once when the elephant was very young, it was tied to the pole the same way. Naturally, it didn’t like that and tried to escape, but try as it might, the rope and the pole were too strong for it. The rope is tied so well they cannot break it. And so it learns the rope keeps them in place. So the elephant eventually gave up. And when it grows older, it keeps on believing it could not escape from the rope, and remains standing in the same place, despite the fact it could then easily escape.
We live in a culture that has told stories for thousands of years, and rarely if ever is anyone told why we tell stories and why the stories matter. The reason is: life is unbelievably complicated, and our brains have a limited capability in simplifying those complexities into the optimal outcomes. Instead, we most easily see options that appeal to emotional disposition. We see the future we want to be true. And if that future is in agreement with the reality, we can manifest our intentions as a apart of that reality.
At any given moment, there are an infinite number of roads you can walk; your identities and your judgments all come together to move you on one path forward.
Humans share one world, but each person has their own collections of personas that shift the peaks and valleys on their landscape. Every story is its own map, with its own trails to walk and mountains to surmount.
People tell stories so they can live them.
What stories you are telling? And are they true?