Born Storytellers

Born storytellers. Lynette M Burrows discusses how storytelling helps and hurts us.

We are born storytellers. Have you ever told a ghost story? Or did you tell a lie to make certain you stayed out of trouble? Perhaps you told a friend or coworker about the terrible, horrible, no-good day you had? Maybe you shared a story about the joyful day when your son or daughter was born. Or you simply relive the day your parent, teacher, boss, or revered mentor did or said something you cherish. Yeah. Me, too. Storytellers do that.

Have you ever told a ghost story? Or a lie? Or shared a great memory? You were born a storyteller.
Campfire songs and stories by David Veksler

We use stories every single day. Generally, they are really short stories, unless you are the person who goes on and on and on and on. This inborn sense of the dramatic is part and parcel of who we are. We feel a compulsion—no, not to lie—to share our feelings. That’s what storytelling is all about. At least, compelling storytelling is.


This is why movies, novels, articles, artwork, photography, and songs are so important to us. They invite us to imagine ourselves in a different situation, or to remember a similar feeling, or to re-experience that feeling we want or need to re-live.


Why would we want to feel negative feelings of sadness again, you ask? Sometimes the experience, the sadness, is so profound we can’t process it right away.  Then, when the commercial comes on that shows the horse running through the streets to be with the man who raised him, we feel the tears welling up in our eyes.


I like to think that most of the stories that we tell in order to raise people up to be better humans but sometimes, stories get in our way. Our compulsion to tell a story leads us to tell stories to ourselves about our friends, neighbors, and acquaintances. Through our own feelings (depression, out-of-sorts, anger, whatever), we interpret the events of our encounter with another person in our terms, assigning feelings that we think motivated the other person. In other words, the born storyteller inside of us comes into play. This is why ‘eyewitness’ accounts are not always reliable.

Take this story reported by the Kansas City Star: Bullets in Belton: A former Vegas singer, an ex-politician, and a barroom shooting.

Notice one person was mad, the other afraid. Their stories reflect their assumptions of the motives of the other person based on what they were feeling!

“We don’t see things as they are.

We see things as we are.” Anais Nin



Okay, you didn’t shoot someone over the last disagreement you had. But, remember the last time you felt like you were snubbed? Examine your story. Maybe you were snubbed, maybe not. Perhaps the other person had had a bad day. Maybe he or she got some really bad news, was focused on that news, and couldn’t see or hear you. Maybe that person comes from another culture with different social norms. That person would be surprised to know that you felt snubbed. You could be misreading the other person’s intent.

That old adage, “You can’t understand a person until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes” is a plea for understanding, for empathy. Maybe you can’t actually walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, but you can think about it, read about it, imagine it.

It’s not easy to consider another person’s intent when we’re in the heat of the moment. Think for a moment about how much better we would feel if we stopped to examine our personal story before we react. What would happen if we reacted based on the feelings of the other person? How would that have changed the reactions in the story from the Kansas City Star? How would it change your reaction to something your parent/spouse/friend said or did?

Do you agree that people are born storytellers?

Did you find this helpful in some way? 

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