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Why do humans need stories?

We all love a good story, don’t we? Of course we do, but why? What is it about stories and storytelling that is so compelling to us as a species? We are (as far as we know) the only species on earth that tells stories. We know that

plants and other living creatures communicate with each other, but we are the only ones who use our imaginations to transport listeners to another time, place, or universe. From cave paintings to master works of art, sculptures, poems, novels, movies, even flower arrangements are attributed meanings and messages. Everywhere we look we see stories. I can wander the shelves of an antique store for hours, looking at the ephemera and artefacts from times gone by and instantly wonder what the object’s story is. Who owned it? Who made it? Where and how was it used? I am the same with old buildings- fascinated by the tales whispered by ancient stones. But why?

As human beings we have an inherent need to connect and communicate with each other, to share experiences and emotions. Sharing stories is one of the most effective ways of doing this. Picture the scene: An ancient tribe seated around a roaring fire, feasting together after the day’s hunting and gathering, recounting stories of the hunt as their kill crackles over the flames. The delicious scent of roasting deer, or boar permeates the air as darkness envelopes the camp and little children listen in awe as the hunter describes the thrill of stalking the creature through the forest. You can feel it, right? You can see it in your mind? Stories are a powerful tool enabling us to feel and see what others do.

Open a book and you’re immediately transported into the mind and world of the storyteller as if you were experiencing it yourself. As readers we are able to empathise with characters and events. We are taught compassion, caution, tolerance, love, hate, fear and any other number of human emotions. Stories help us to look deeper into ourselves and enable us to connect with and make sense of the world around us. Stories allow us a window into the past, and sometimes the future, through which we can see the development of the human civilisation and learn from it. Tales told reflect the morals of our current societies, we learn the rights and wrongs of our world and we gain insight into different cultures and religious practices. We are able to see the world through the eyes of children and adults, and imagine living as tigers in the jungle do. We should never underestimate the power and influence of a great story. We need them to survive, live well and evolve.

Written by Author C.L. Monaghan

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