Why do We Tell Stories?

  • Why do we tell stories?


    I think there is merit to the idea that stories gave our ancient ancestors an evolutionary advantage. The ape that could imagine (tell himself a story) that there was a lion in wait behind a large rock was more likely to take measures (ie: being prepared to defend himself or taking another route through the jungle) to deal with it, and therefore, survive. The ape that went back to its clan with a story about the possibility of a lion lurking behind a large rock increased the possibility that its family members would survive, propagating their genes in the pool.


    As humanity evolved, the nature of storytelling became more complex, but the purpose remained essentially the same. Stories in oral cultures, transferred the wisdom of the tribe from one generation to the next. There were stories about basic skills (how to fish or cook), as well as social skills (perhaps why we share food with other members of our clan, not to steal another person’s partner, etc.). To these were eventually added creation myths, stories that tried to make sense of our place in the world, the purpose of our lives.


    Even in our modern, complex societies, stories tell us who we are. Sometimes, stories about the past help us understand how we got to where we are. Sometimes, stories about the present show us how we, or people like us, exist in our current historical moment. Sometimes, stories about the future warn us about what we might encounter if we are not careful (environmental destruction being a modern version of the lion behind the big rock). Whether or not they are intended to convey such messages, all stories, even those shrugged off as mere “entertainments,” tell us something about who we are.


    I am proud to be part of such a long tradition.


    Best of luck with your story in 2015!

1 comment
  • Diana Cachey likes this
  • Diana Cachey
    Diana Cachey I just returned from Greece, then got the flu so I watched the first season of Rome. So I can tell you, your article speaks true, dating back to 3000 BC and more! Stories are important & I am so grateful to be writing mine. Thanks for the post.
    January 12, 2015

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