One of my favorite authors John Green (I’m aware how cliche it would be to say I was reading his books before they were cool and turned into movies) recently said in one of his vlogs: “I believe books challenge and interrogate; they give us windows into the lives of others, and give us mirrors so we can better see ourselves.”
It’s funny that he was the one saying this, because this is exactly how I feel about his books. I remember reading Paper Towns, and having my mind blown by the idea that we can never really completely know another person; that we so frequently build up these ideas about people in our heads which may not be a reflection of who they really are. And I think we can extend his belief about books to stories in all their forms.
Stories, whether they’re spoken or written down, are our oldest form of transmitting knowledge and understanding, and I’d argue (though this may be my own extremely biased perspective as a writer and content marketer) the most powerful one. Think about how many times your whole worldview (or view of a person) has been tipped on its axis simply because somebody told you a story about something they’d been through, good or bad. Think about how something you watch or read can change everything.
I did some research into the history of storytelling, and found it fascinating that even the earliest of humans recognised storytelling as one of the most powerful ways to transmit a message (a story telling me how powerful stories are, how meta). Essentially: they understood that a picture on your cave wall showing exactly what happened to the last guy who tried to take on a sabre-tooth tiger is probably more convincing than just telling someone not to go chasing one.
We can trace literary storytelling back to around 700 years post-cave paintings, with the Epic of Gilgamesh (a semi-fictional story carved in stone tablets – just a tad heavier than your Kindle). Some of these early forays into literature have clear morals and lessons, like Aesop’s Fables, or serve as pre-science explanations of natural phenomena to help people make sense of the world around them (my personal favorite comes from my home in New Zealand, explaining rain as the tears of the Sky Mother, Papatuanuku). Others – and these ended up becoming the dominant form – would function like ink blots that stir our thoughts and emotions, giving us a reflection of our own latent thoughts as we peeked through the keyhole into someone else’s perspective (in short: Romeo and Juliet reads very differently when you’re the parent of a stubborn teenager in love than it does when you are said stubborn teenager).
And then, with the development of new technologies, we start to see these stories and objectives played out on radio, on film and television…and most recently, streaming media (podcasting, YouTube, Facebook Live, etc). A story is transformed when it’s spoken to you, when someone else’s speech patterns, mood and intonations colour the way in which you receive the story you’re being told (this video is probably the best example I’ve come across – don’t be put off the title, watch the whole thing. Trust me on this). And there’s something that happens when we hear someone share their own story, recounting events from their own perspective, in their own words, with their own voice. It pushes the listener to connect with the truth and humanity of what’s being said.
Whether you have something that people would benefit from learning (eg, do not chase the sabre tooth), or you simply want to encourage people to see things from another perspective, your most powerful tool is storytelling. Whether you’re telling your own story, encouraging other people to tell theirs, or making one up, it has always been the best way, on a really primal level, to get people to really take on your message and/or expand their thinking.
If you’d like to find out more about how you can use podcasting as a vehicle for telling stories (your own or others) and the impact that can have, come along to Karly’s next free webinar – as well as talking tech, she’ll be covering how to best refine and transmit your message, and the benefits she’s experienced from doing just that.