How the Stories We Tell Shape Our World

How the Stories We Tell Shape Our World
The Journey of Storytelling

The destiny of the world is determined less by the battles that are lost and won than by the stories it loves and believes in. – Harold Goddard

The Power of Story

I’ve been passionate about stories for as long as I can remember. I used to love watching my grandfather, Pops, leap from his chair in his wiry frame as he spun feverish yarns about vampire bats landing in his hair as a kid and riding elevators with Al Capone in the 1920s. Pops had stories about everything from ghosts to boxing and how to make pasta. Each tale had a way of transporting my brothers and me right into those places. We were those creatures; riding those elevators with those gangsters too. While at some level we questioned the truth of Pops’ stories, we didn’t care. It was in those moments that I began to realise – perhaps the truth is often found, not in the moment itself, but in what we see and experience within it. It is our perspective that gives meaning to our experience, and with that meaning we discover the seeds of stories.

In our modern information age, we are packed to the brim with new concepts and ideas. They seem to be tunneling in from every direction and dimension: books, TV, film and the web now find us in our homes, in our cars and on the touch screens of our iPhones. We are literally swimming in a giant pasta bowl of concepts, ideas, thoughts and opinions. Certainly, we are becoming much more aware of a lot of vital information, but perhaps because of the pace and the way it reaches us, a great majority of these concepts and ideas (no matter how revolutionary) are getting stuck up in our heads. We can talk passionately about them, we can write about them, and we even may find ourselves arguing on their behalf or judging others for thinking otherwise, but the real truth is that many of the most powerful truths we’re learning – from ancient wisdom to quantum physics; aren’t making it past the front door of our brain into our bodies and our beings. They aren’t becoming cellular; they aren’t being lived. We may ‘get it’, but how many of us are actually, genuinely living it?

In my own quest to find ways to embody more of the truth I’ve been exposed to in this life, I have discovered one constant wellspring of indescribable power; to not only bring myself into deeper levels of genuine experience with new ideas but to simultaneously share that energy with others … That wellspring is the power of story.

There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories. – Ursula K. LeGuin

The StorytellerWhen we tell stories, we invite the listener to become a part of the journey. Image: Sebastián León Prado

Sharing Life Lessons

It is well known that many of the greatest teachers and luminaries throughout time, as well as virtually every tribal culture on record, have passed on wisdom – not through concepts and ideas but through stories and parables. But why? If they knew the truth, if they held the wisdom, why not just speak it plainly for all to hear? Come on team, out with it!

For me, the answer to this question came through strong and clear in my early years as a father; as I set out to share life lessons and truths with my now fifteen-year-old son, Josh. Josh and I share an amazing bond but from early on it seemed that whenever I tried to explain a simple principle about life, he would just sort of turn off. It was like he had an anti-preach-o-meter and from a very young age, hearing life truths was like eating raw kale (which also happened a lot at the time). At first I got offended, but then one night at storytime, I began spinning a tale about a couple of kids in the forest with a Druid and a glowing sword … It was quirky and funny with a touch of old Pops woven in, and Joshy loved it. His eyes got a little wider, his mouth dropped open – and suddenly I realized, he wasn’t just hearing the story, he was ‘in it’. I could have put a fork full of kale in that little mouth right then and he would have eaten it! Instead, I just dropped in a simple theme about the tangible power of thought, and the idea that ‘thoughts are things’. After the story, Josh drifted off (actually, to be honest, I probably fell asleep first), and then I forgot about the whole thing.

A few days later we were running late for a movie. We turned around the corner, looking for a parking spot on the busy street. “We’ll never find a park here!” I blurted out. Josh shot me a scornful glance, “Not if you think that way, Dad. Come on, ‘thoughts are things’ remember?” As if on cue, a parking spot opened right in front of us … touché.

The truth is: stories are one of the greatest known bridges from our head to our heart. Some cultures believe that the living pulse of a story actually seeks out specific people through which to be told or written. For those cultures, the ones whose task is to receive and share new stories are greatly revered; for it is known that in the sharing of the story we not only honor the wisdom of what has been, but we also weave new possibilities into the fabric of reality.

When we listen to a truthful story, we are taken on a journey and in that journey, it is our own story we hear within it. Great masters and indigenous elders have always known this to be true. When we tell information we speak to the head but when we tell a story, we speak to the experience of another. While facts are contained like a pool, stories run like a river. Their flowing rhythms allow those of different walks to draw from them whatever they may need to take the next step in their own journey.

CampfireAround the campfire. Image: Kevin Erdvig

Creating New Stories

In times like this, times of big change on the planet – the truth is we need new stories. Stories that reconnect us to the currents of life so that our stride may be truer in the future. Stories that churn the soil of our existence, so that we may begin to plant seeds for tomorrow’s dreams and to grow a world of positive self-expression. According to cellular biologist and best-selling author of Biology of Belief, Dr. Bruce Lipton, creating a ‘new story’ is one of the most powerful steps we can take as humanity in our efforts to heal and preserve life on our planet.

We don’t need to try to fight the old story. We simply need to walk outside the old story and build a new story. People will leave the old story when they see a new story working. Every individual who changes their own story, is changing the vibrational environment within which we live. – Bruce Lipton

As we move through life experiences, each day we have the opportunity to create meaning in our world through the stories we choose to share and hear about. Events are not factual. They occur differently according to every lens experiencing them. Knowing this gives us the opportunity to choose the story we experience. Does the sun setting mean it’s the end of another day that you didn’t get everything finished on your to-do list, or is it an invitation to pause on the path and soak up the infinite magic of the sky? Is an injury the end of an aspiring athletic-career or is it a doorway to an unexpected path of higher possibilities?

We each have the power to choose not only the experiences we create but the meaning that we give them. And with our meaning emerges our story. I will leave you with a few words from Thomas Drier that always help me to remember what’s possible in the realms of story. Whether you consider yourself a storyteller or not, I invite you to consider these words as the author of your own life story, which is intrinsically woven and connected to the great creation story of life.

As a writer, I only have one desire. To fill you with fire. To pour into you the distilled essence of the sun itself. I want every thought, every word, every act of mine to make you feel that you are receiving into your body, into your mind, into your soul, the sacred spirit that changes clay into men and men into gods. – Thomas Drier

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Jody Norman
3 years ago

Truly great article! As someone whose first novel is just coming out, I hope I can live up even half of what this article describes.

The other half of this comment is that I want to utilize a quote from this article in an eFieldbook I’m in charge of creating for the National Urban Extension Leaders. Website draft is visible at:

Please let me know if this is a problem!

Connor Wilson
4 years ago

My dad is an awesome dad!

5 years ago


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