Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess…
Yes, that is one kind of story. But that is not what I mean by the title of this post.
Stories are everywhere. On television and movie screens, in books and magazines, and told by parents and grandparents to children all over the world. They flow around us as we walk down the street, ride the bus, or sit with friends in coffee shops. Snatches of conversation or bits on the radio that catch our attention, books on a long commute, or amusing anecdotes shared among friends and coworkers.
But stories are much more than amusement, or a way to get our kids to fall asleep each night. They make up the very fabric of our lives. They can spark imagination, connect us with our ancestors and neighbors, teach lessons and values, inform who we are, and have a large part in shaping our identities. Stories are how we relive memories, and how we fit ourselves into the context of the world around us.
They are wonderful, awesome, and powerful things.
So, if the stories we tell are so wonderful, why do I say beware? Because we build our truth around them.
If you tell your children bedtime stories each night, would you rather read them books about wonderful adventures with confident heroes, and happy endings, or books about scary monsters who terrify sad, scared, and powerless victims? If you are smart, you’d choose the wonderful adventures! Young children have especially vivid imaginations. Your child is going to picture himself in the hero’s place. He will think about the story, role play with it, and most likely dream about it. With the scary book, he will also think about it, role play with it, and dream about it. But those dreams will come in the form of anxious nightmares, and who needs that? Nobody wants their kid waking up at 2am in tears!
We still operate very much like this as adults. We imagine what things would be like “if…”. We dream and role play. And we internalize the stories that our parents and people close to us have told us all our lives. Those stories could be “you are caring, you are loving, you are intelligent”. Or, they could be “you are so stupid, you never get anything right! How could anybody possibly love you?”. As a storyteller, you have great power in your hands – to either build people up or break them down. You have the potential to foster kindness and tolerance, or hatred and malice. And you both consciously and unconsciously choose these things continuously on a daily basis. In what you do, what you say, and even what you think.
Yes, you are your own storyteller. The stories you tell yourself are just as important as the ones you tell others. They can work to your benefit, or they can sabotage you. You can tell yourself lies until you believe they are truths, or twist truths so far out of proportion you believe they must be lies.
Beware the stories you tell. Weigh their truth and measure their potential impact. Choose wisely. Your stories have more influence than you realize.