Why stories are so convincing
As children, we loved hearing stories. We loved our parents and grandparents making sense of those squiggly symbols next to the pictures in books. We loved this deciphering so much it went deep within us before lulling us to sleep. By the time we went to school, we were happy to sit on a floor in a soporific classroom, where we were transported through the back of a wardrobe to meet with lions and witches.
Later, we picked up books for ourselves and got drawn into the worlds within them. Worlds inhabited by hobbits, fairies, games of Quidditch and even ‘real’ people. We got inspired by some of our favourite characters. Within the space of just a few weeks, I wanted to be a fourth musketeer, then a one-legged pirate, then a boy who could fly, then a Red Indian (I had not heard the term Native American at the time).
Book clubs glue people
And now, years later, book clubs appear to be as ubiquitous as fake news. If you work in an office it is hard to avoid snippets of conversation on ‘this month’s book’, the current reading matter at the epicentre of a knot of totally different individuals. Individuals you could never imagine having a single thing in common, except a love of a work of pure fiction.
We appear to be obsessed with stories even more than our ancient ancestors, who had little else to do all day but run after antelope, rub sticks together and daub their own simple stories on the walls of their semi-detached caves.
Our endless distractions
In comparison to our hairy brethren, we have tons of stuff with which to distract ourselves. We have screens, for instance, teeming with content. We have restaurants serving food originating from every corner of the planet. We have motorised vehicles, in which to sit behind and in front of other people in very similar situations. We have televisual box-sets that suck, leech-like, at our available time. We can also deposit hours of our lives in pubs that no longer appear to close. We have music festivals to attend, every single weekend. We have social media sites swarming with so many cute puppies – ooh, look at that one, walking on its hind legs – you could not even make it up… could you?
We have all these distractions that our forebears did not. Yet a good anecdote can make us fold up in laughter; we get sucked into the car speakers emanating audio books; we even find the time to pore over chunky slabs of literature.
Because we LOVE stories. We cannot now, nor have we ever been able, to get enough of them. Stories may in fact be what separated us from the apes in the first place. Our ability to communicate in highly sophisticated ways means we could share invaluable, life-saving information:
“Where is the water?”
“It’s over there. Sorry, I don’t have time to take you. Off you trot. I am busy chiselling symbols onto this hunk of rock, showing people where they can drink.”
As they have for millennia, stories help us understand the world. Traditions and belief systems are passed on via stories, our cultural identities are embedded in story form, and stories can incite laughter, an antidote worthy of the United Nations’ consideration.
The world’s most powerful medium – ever!
If stories can do all of this – if they can help us to empathise, if they can inspire us, convince us to do, to feel, to believe – then it is easy to conclude that they are the most powerful creation there ever was.
Lucas North – copywriter at drp