We Tell Ourselves Stories In Order to Live

I’ve always been a sucker for films like Oceans 11, To Catch a Thief, and The Brothers Bloom. A blend of witty dialogue, exotic locales, beautiful costumes, and heroes on the wrong side of the law, these stories capture my imagination in ways no other films do. They are storytelling at its best, and they bring me back to my childhood when my uncle used to take the material of the day and transform it into something magical, adventurous, and heroic. I’ve been hooked on good stories ever since.

The stories we tell – to ourselves or to others – reveal something about the inner working of our mind. Who is the protagonist, the antagonist? What is the plot, the punch line, the resolution? What are the layers of intrigue, subterfuge? Does the story have a happy ending?

I came across the following quote in the forward of Willa Cather’s My Àntonia, and I apologize that I’m not able to credit the author properly. It may be Sharon O’Brien. “According to Joan Didion, we tell ourselves stories in order to live. Stories give our lives back to us in meaningful forms we can recognize, and the act of telling or writing a story, no matter the pain that may be part of its source, is life affirming.”

Storytelling is a way we make sense of the world, the way we boil down experiences to extract a small vial of truth, the way we reshape an experience so we can be at peace with it. Storytelling is an essential way we connect with the rest of humanity.

However, the quote in the Cather forward continued, “But what may be affirming for one storyteller may be destructive to another; one person’s story may silence another’s voice. We always need to ask, who gets to tell the story? Storytelling cannot be separated from social and political issues of power…”

It is only natural to write ourselves as the center of our own story; however, there is the danger of discounting the characters around us. It is our challenge as writers, as human beings, as storytellers, to tell the stories of the people we know. To be the voice of those who cannot speak for themselves. To tell stories in order that others may live.



One thought on “We Tell Ourselves Stories In Order to Live

  1. Michael says:

    Dang girl! You got it. I should set you up to do some consulting with me on organizational storytelling. Here’s a story: Michael and Julie met, did stuff together, then started transforming people’s lives and work through the magic of story. (Story… sort of the theoretical/pretentious way of referring to storytelling). Rock on.

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