Today, our love of storytelling is as prolific as ever; the vehicle has merely changed. What was once the spoken word of a wandering prophet or the whisper of a parent at bedtime, may have arguably been sidestepped by rapid-speed tweets, online forums, the e-book and photographs bearing hashtags and likes.
The idea of a story still remains, however. Through followings, stumbles, likes and tumbling, we give our ears and support to the raconteur, be it our favorite profile on Instagram, that online comic whose blog we love so much or Jenna Marbles.
As we skim Instagram or read through blog posts, we are giving ourselves over to the stories of others.
In following Brandon Stanton’s jaunt throughout New York and the rest of the world, we laugh, cry, become angry, fearful and impassioned, but above all, captivated. Through a single photo and a simple quote, sometimes a whole complex story might be conveyed.
So, what is it in the story that appeals to us so much? What is it about the daily dose of Humans of New York that keeps the over 9 million Facebook followers checking back for another photograph, another quote, another glimpse into someone else's life? In turn, why are such recountings beneficial to us as listeners?
It is part of our nature.
We are a communicative and communal species. Let’s consider the fact that not only do we have a spoken language, we have thousands, each with its own cadence, subtleties, nuances, culture and even stories.
For many of these, we have written counterparts, symbols that when combined in such a way, can convey even the most complex of human emotions, concepts and understandings.
With our written and spoken languages, we can poetically beg a lover to stay or explain how to send a rocket to Mars. We can commemorate a deceased icon, or create a farce that mobilizes the millions.
The fact of the matter is, we tell stories in all that we do or say, whether we intend to or not. With the expansion of technology to include the languages behind coding, visual art or music, we are forever spinning yarns and telling tales.
We experience empathy and gain perspective.
I met with some friends for a drink recently and the conversation turned (as it now so often does) to how “old” we were and how old we felt. They laughed because they claimed my latest weekend pastime is that of an “old person.” I drink wine in my bathtub and listen to "The Moth" or "This American Life."
“What is it you could possibly like about listening to other people’s messed up lives?” one of my friends laughed, shaking his head. I was momentarily taken aback because while many of the stories from my podcasts of choice do involve hardships, I never listen and think, “Man, these people are messed up.”
If anything, I find myself reflecting in awe at the bravery to relay such a history, or the beauty that lies in a human life so different from my own.
While it is true that an occasionally difficult tale will leave me feeling all the more gratified in my own life and misgivings, I don’t think the intention is to further degrade the storyteller and his saga, but rather to give us, as listeners, an opportunity for new perspective and empathy.
In listening to the stories of others, we are given a human face to issues we may not have had the strength to consider as anything more than a headline or statistic.
We find inspiration in the strength of others and their endurance for a life we cannot even imagine. We find empathy and respect for those whose hearts ache, bones crackle and voices often go unheard.
It allows us to feel connected.
One of the aspects so intrinsic to our nature as individuals, and as a species, is our need to belong, or at least be recognized. You can argue that introverts might feel like this, sociopaths are this or Thoreau said this, but as a whole, we often seek the approval of others and desire a sense of connection.
There are few things nearly so awesome as finding comradery with someone over an issue that once felt so isolating. Through listening to the stories of others, we are suddenly no longer shouting into the void, listlessly waiting for some sort of sign that we are the only ones to feel as we do.
Through storytelling, we can see how emotions and ideas transgress all types of boundaries and people from all walks of life might be much closer to you than you initially assumed.
How to listen:
While following the blog of renowned writers or “liking” the posts of celebrities is certainly one way of listening to a story, it’s also limiting. The moving stories we see on the news, listen to on the radio or see shared on our social media feeds are all means for telling tales, but are hardly all of them.
As we’ve by now determined, everyone has a story to tell and sometimes just needs a listening ear. Travel the world, or even just your neighborhood, and open your ears and heart to the hotel workers, cab drivers and waiters you come across.
Allow yourself to hear what your friends, parents and neighbors have to say. You might be surprised to find the interesting lives they’ve led, but don’t normally discuss.
Telling our own tales:
If there is anything I’ve ever learned in all my years of education, it is that one of the best ways to become a better writer is by reading the writing of others.
Similarly, to become a better storyteller, listen to the stories others tell. In hearing the ways in which an individual’s heart ticks, his or her mind turns, and life unfolds, we gain insight into our own lives and understandings of ourselves.
In telling our own stories, weaving our own yarns and sharing our own perspectives, we can often gain insight as to how others might perceive us. We should tell our own tales, or at least allow ourselves the luxury to reflect upon them. Journal, blog, create and document your daily worries, inspirations and happenings.
Draw timelines that capture the major moments of our lives, then draw timelines that document the moments that feel not as important. What is often so difficult to realize, is that the tiny threads that are our seemingly insignificant moments or days, comprise the greater fabric that is the years of our lives.
So, listen and listen well; tell a tale and tell it with heart. The entire world has a story; we just need to listen.
Photo Courtesy: Tumblr