Monday, January 02, 2006

Stories

"We need stories so much that we're even willing to read bad books to get them, if the good books won't supply them." - Philip Pullman
The telling of, and the listening to or reading of stories, may be the one trait that gives us our unique humanity. With the possible exceptions of elephants, porpoises and whales, it appears that no other species has the capability to abstractly represent reality in a more or less structured form to relate events and emotions of the past, present and future. Perhaps there is an innate structure in our brains that enables us to perceive and internalize stories, even at a very young age. "Tell me a story" is a common bedtime refrain for young children. Older children will read for themselves. The lyrics of most popular music will usually tell a story, if not in themselves, then about the group listening. Movies and television are mostly stories, some better than others, but all there to fill this need.

The way stories can become a shared consciousness is a blessing and a curse. It can inspire a nation to greatness, elevating all its citizens; if corrupt or perverse it may destroy it. The German myth of the Aryan super-race caused so much destruction not only because it was flawed, but because it offered so much to a people who had lost nearly everything. What repeatedly happens throughout history is that when a certain story, or group of related stories, becomes "truth" to the exclusion of all other stories, the other stories must be destroyed. Any validity or wisdom in the stories becomes secondary to the quest for an absolute monotheism, be it religious or political. It is no coincidence that the texts of the world's major religions have been ossified for centuries.

But the stories continue. Everyone's life is a story, and when it can be shared in an effective way, it can elevate the mundane to art, and change the profound into a glimpse of heaven.

By Professor Batty



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