Of course, the word storytelling has two parts: story and telling. While an increasing body of literature seems to be focusing on the power of “story” to define our identity, and on the importance of story in human thought, less is written about the “telling” part. In this entry I would like to put the focus squarely on storytelling in the human mind and in everyday life.
In the previous entry, I wrote of the narrative processes that dominate all human thinking. In our minds, we are constantly creating and updating our storylines. Our personal stories, the ones we tell ourselves all the time, are the way we understand and order our world. In a sense, we organize the world around us to fit into our stories.
However, we don’t only define our being by crafting our stories of identity. We become who we are by the act of telling our stories to others. This is what Salman Rushdie means by “We tell ourselves into being.”
French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre once wrote that man “lives surrounded by his stories and the stories of others, he sees everything that happens to him through them, and he tries to live his life as if he were recounting it.”
He tries to live his life as if he were recounting it. In other words, we spend much of our time telling ourselves the story of ourselves, and we often imagine that we are recounting it to someone else. Then, at times, we choose to share the stories we create in our minds with those around us, selectively. Let’s examine two of the principle reasons why we opt to share our stories.
First, the act of telling our stories of identity constitutes a journey toward finding the deeper meaning of our existence. When we tell our stories to one another, we connect and reassemble the events of our lives to give them coherence and to discover their significance. In our exchange of stories, we are satisfying a profound yearning for purpose. These storytelling interactions are fundamental to the basic human process of self-discovery and self-awareness.
Second, our personal stories are the best vehicle we have for allowing another to know us. When we want to explain who we are to someone else, we give them our life stories; we talk of our childhoods, of family members and teachers who influenced us, of our first loves, and of the past decisions and experiences that made us who we are today. The act of telling these stories is important, as it is the way we reveal ourselves to others.