We humans are hard-wired to want to hear story telling. I used that human need when I was teaching—nothing got the attention of students quite so fast as telling a story. One of the first writing assignments I would give was to write a narrative. The simple task of the assignment: tell me a story.
No doubt, our human love of stories originated around cave campfires. The nights can stretch long and cold in northern winters. It is easy to picture a small group of cave people—men, women, old and young, huddled together and then someone begins to tell a story.
We know, for example, that some of the earliest literature we have began out of an oral tradition. Stories that would be told, perhaps even sung, by professional story-tellers who would travel around, weaving their magic in words.
Sometimes it seems that when we grow older, and more sophisticated in our modern way, that we think we don’t need stories anymore. But, the recent news of Maurice Sendak’s death struck a deep sad chord within the hearts of those of us who grew up either reading or hearing “Where the Wild Things Are.” Sendak grasped the power of the story. Not for him the faux emotion of a happily-ever-after-sugar-coated Disney tale. He told stories that placed a firm finger on children’s deep inner fears—and made them seem … normal. It was OK to have wild things romping around in your kingdom room. It was OK to be afraid. It was OK to peer into the darkness.
And just today, I heard of another use of storytelling. An NPR story (there’s that word again) talked about Alzheimer’s patients or even anyone with dementia. One of the sad losses they experience is the ability to communicate. And it begins when their memories grow spotty so they can’t recall things. Loved ones who long to communicate try to prompt them to talk about something they remember. But, it’s the failure of memory that frustrates them and sometimes renders them mute.
So some bright person thought—why not get them to tell a story about a picture they look at. The picture can be anything: an ad from a magazine, an illustration, a painting—whatever. The prompt is simple—tell me a story about what you see in this picture. And since there’s no wrong answer, no challenge to recall details, they can talk. They construct stories about the scene in the picture, adding details and thoroughly enjoying themselves. No doubt, their loved ones are also gratified to hear them communicating again.
So, tell me a story. It’s the human thing to do.