The Importance of Stories

For the last few days I’ve been battling with a cold and so this will be brief. Something that I’m currently reading is called The Story Grid, by Shawn Coyne. It’s a book on writing and editing craft (which is something I’m always trying to learn more of). I haven’t finished it yet and so I wait to talk about the book itself for later.

There is a section of the book that is titled “How Stories Save Lives.” In it, Coyne talks about another book The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves by Stephen Grosz, a psycho analyst who says that how we view our lives is very much like stories. Often when we’re confronted with new situations, we decide what to do based on the stories that we have internalized.

Grosz talks about how after the first plane struck the World Train Center on 9/11, many people didn’t move. They stayed at their desks and a terrible fate. But not all people. Here’s what I’m talking about (the section of the book and the blog post is pretty much the same):

Grosz suggests that the reason every single person in the South Tower didn’t immediately leave the building is that they did not have a familiar story in their minds to guide them. This from his book:

We are vehemently faithful to our own view of the world, our story. We want to know what new story we’re stepping into before we exit the old one. We don’t want an exit if we don’t know exactly where it is going to take us, even – or perhaps especially – in an emergency. This is so, I hasten to add, whether we are patients or psychoanalysts. (Grosz, Stephen. The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves (p.123) W. W. Norton & Company)

I find it interesting that in the grand scheme of how we live our lives, we might view it as a story. Even more interesting is that our fears of ignorance can be assuaged with an example story.

If we take this at face value, perhaps tragedies like the Sewol ferry or the Daegu train fire could have been lessened if people had read stories that gave them an idea of what to do.

No point here. Well, maybe we all should go out and read more books, and a wider variety of books. I know after reading something like Dracula, I feel much better prepared for battling vampires.

I do like the idea that stories matter and are important.

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