story telling

When I was a child, “story-telling” was just another expression for lying.  If someone said something that we saw as false, we would immediately declare with great passion, “That is not so!   That is a story!”  If someone had a history of telling falsehood, he/she was labeled with heavy opprobrium, “He/she is a story-teller.”  Even a benign “story”…such as a fairy tale…was a “story” because it was clearly made up.  The implicit assumption of that cultural verbal contrivance was that there was an objective reality and anything that differed was “a story.”

But story-telling was being maligned.  Story-telling is a wonderful way of conveying information; one could even say, “truth.”  And, technically the best we can every do is to tell stories and even history itself is a story that has evolved over the millennia.  Let’s take U.S. history, for example.  When I was taught this subject in the mid-sixties I found the subject fascinating and didn’t have to worry about critical reading or anything like that.  The story of U.S. history was merely a factual account of what had happened and I found it very interesting.  It was only in college that I learned to approach history…and the rest of our knowledge-base…with a critical mind.

Another powerful story in my youth was the Christian tradition.  But it was not presented as a “story”; it was presented as a factual account of what had happened two thousand years earlier with the life of Jesus.  I now see that too as a “story” but with that approach I have been able to glean great meaning which would have eluded me otherwise.  I see Jesus as an historical character who was an extraordinary spiritual presence.  The early Christians were captivated by the story of his life and death.  And they had little difficulty in believing that, yes, he had been raised from the dead.  These early believers perpetuated this story and contributed significantly to it.  Christian history has from that point been an unfolding of this original story, an unfolding that continues even today.

Let me close with an observation made by Harry Crews in the story of his own life:  Nothing is allowed to die in a society of a storytelling people.  It is all—the good and the bad—carted up and brought along from one generation to the next.  And everything that is brought along is colored and shaped by those who bring it..

It is important that we formulate and tell our stories.


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