The Power of Story

There are things in life that are often unexplainable. Occurrences that are difficult to process logically. My Grandfather’s passing was one of these times in my life. The week after he passed was filled with funeral preparations and processions. As a young teenager, it was a difficult week for me. But, I’ll never forget the reprieve I found in my Uncle’s stories. My uncle would tell us stories about my grandfather and all of the outlandish things that had happened in his life. My siblings and I couldn’t get enough of them. Before long, I realized I was smiling and laughing again. Somehow my uncle’s stories had not only educated us about our grandfather, but they had also helped me through the process of grieving. This is the power of story.

I would like to present to you the idea that story is the most effective tool that we humans have when it comes to communicating. Story is something that humans have had for most of our entire existence. Stories have been used by every civilization around the world. What is especially interesting is that tribes and civilizations, completely isolated from each other, developed forms of storytelling. Stories have been used as a means of recounting history, entertainment, persuasion, and even for manipulation. But before we get into all of that let’s do a quick rundown of what story is.

Aristotle, the ancient Greek philosopher that lived almost 2,400 years ago, wrote a book called Poetics. In this book, he analyzes the stories of his time, most of which are either an epic poem or theatrical play. Aristotle discusses the idea of Plot, the concept that a story consists of a series of events, a beginning, a middle, and an end. Even today, every good story consists of these things. A story must have a plot, because the plot, in conjunction with conflict, is what drives the story forward to the biggest moment of the story known as the Climax. The climax is where a story’s main character confronts the greatest force of conflict in the story and must make a decision. This decision, whatever it may be, incites a change, a shift in the story. It is where the main character must walk away different. It is through this change that the meaning and the theme of the story shines through.

Now that is more specific to the overall concept of story and doesn’t necessarily fully correlate to a story that you may tell your friend about a funny incident that happened to you. But the core of a story is the same, that a story is comprised of a series of events. Nevertheless story is still very impactful. Exactly how is it impactful you ask? Great question! You see, a story appeals to one’s emotions, which then causes a connection between the emotion and what the story is about, or even the story itself. These connections are the reason why story is so powerful, and not just in books and movies. Story is powerful when used in… well, everything really, but especially in commercials.

Think about the type of commercials that you remember the most. I guarantee you it is either the ones that made you laugh or made you feel something. I can’t tell you how many conversations I have had with people who talk about the Super Bowl saying that they really just watch it for the commercials. Why is that? Well, it’s probably because during the Super Bowl, the commercials are some of the funniest that you will see all year. Catch that? Funny which causes laughter, which incites positive feelings, and positive feelings equal a positive connection.

There is this famous quote by Maya Angelou that says “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” So, then the goal should be to concentrate on how you make people feel, right? Sort of. We have to be careful because the goal is not to manipulate people into feeling a certain way. The goal is to tell a story that people can then make their own emotional connections with. But even then, can’t that seem manipulative? Unfortunately, the answer is yes, it can. Like I stated earlier, this is the power of story.

I’ve got another quote for you. This one comes from your favorite comic book uncle, Ben Parker, Spider-man’s uncle, and it is “with great power comes great responsibility.” Everyone is a storyteller. Even if you think you aren’t, I promise you that you are. For instance, around 65% of our daily conversations consist of story related speech. This means that you hold the power of story yourself. Therefore, since we are all, storytellers, we must all be responsible with the power that we have to tell those stories. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that you shouldn’t go and tell your stories for fear of manipulating people. I’m actually saying the opposite. You have the most powerful form of communication at your disposal. Use it!

Even though humans have been telling stories for a long time, each storyteller is unique. You have your own unique perspective on the world, tell it. Be as subjective and honest as you can, because believe it or not that is what people will relate to the most, you. Not some objective robot that is featureless and tailored to please everyone. Tell YOUR story, the way you wanna tell it. But do so responsibly, do so for the good of the world!