Human beings see the world in stories. Whatever we put our minds to is naturally furnished with a narrative which gives our thinking a context – it seems to be built into our DNA. Whilst we are all familiar with some of the ancient stories our ancestors created to make sense of their world, we sometimes forget that all of us continue to create and be shaped by stories. To understand this is the first step to grasping the significant role stories play in shaping personal as well as collective or shared perspectives. We are the product not only of our biology but also of the stories we have been told, they have crystalized many of our ideas of what it means to not only be a member of of our species but also of our culture, our nation, our gender, our city, our family, our caste, our religion and so on and so forth. In fact they have played a crucial role in what I think it means to be me.
We tell stories for a whole range of reasons, to educate and explain, to inform, to deceive, to express deeply held truths, to entertain, to persuade, to challenge and many others. Stories also come in many forms, from myths and legends to epics and fables via simple tales and parables. It seems our minds feel the need to contextualize our experiences, to give order and meaning to the jumble of data which, consciously or subconsciously, we are constantly bombarded with. This need to make sense of what we are aware of operates with interpretative structures which determine and inform many, if not most of, our views and beliefs and in turn shape our decisions.
To be aware of this and to try and understand the origins and the nature of the stories which shape us seems to me an essential task, for it is only by making those interpretative structures conscious and explicit that we will come to understand the stories which shape us and maybe begin to take control of the many narratives which have, in part made who we think we are. By exploring the reasons we tell stories, by identifying the way in which universal and shared stories have moulded our own we may come to better understand our own perspective on the world but also how and why other people’s perspectives have come to give them the take on the world they happen to possess. So next time you become particularly puzzled by someone else’s point of view you could do worse than asking them to tell you their story.