Why humans tell stories - an elderly person's hands certainly tell a story

In 2007 the power of story revealed itself in my life out of nowhere and what started as a little spark became a roaring fire that gets me out of bed before dawn each day. People’s stories have become my life’s devotion. This is why I left a great day job to start a business about that very thing – stories – full time.

Before I go on, a word about that…I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, or at least that’s the story I’m going with. At basically this same age, my parents started a crazy family business that nobody understood at the time. It was 1969, and because of intuition and a big idea to help people, they became early pioneers in the natural health movement. Their adventure blessed me with the coolest, quirkiest childhood a kid could want. The family business also gave me opportunities I could never have dreamed about otherwise. Ultimately their saga became my first book, Every Essential Element, and the process of writing my mom’s memoir changed me forever. Step-by-step, it led me here.

With that brief backstory, I’d like to use to share a bit about Evalogue.Life and set forth our business purpose and thesis. In summary, we have three core beliefs about the power of story. They are:

  1. First: Stories knit families together.

  2. Second: Stories turn random events into meaning.

  3. Third: Stories are only the way we will be remembered.

I want to begin with the first claim, and one of the most powerful reasons to tell stories. It is, simply:

1. Stories have the power to save families.

The power of story is to bind families as explained by Bruce Feiler in "The Secrets of Happy Families"
The power of story is to bind families

I’ve got a lot of personal anecdotes, but for purposes today, there is a better source. In a New York Times Article entitled, “The Stories That Bind Us,” author Bruce Feiler tells of a time when his family reached a breaking point. Fear that his family was falling apart led him on a quest for the best research about what makes a strong family. He pored over the literature and then a surprising theme emerged: “The single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative.”

In one powerful study, researchers noticed an unexpected correlation: children who knew a lot about their families did better when challenges hit. They tested the hypothesis by asking children to answer 20 questions like: Do you know where your grandparents grew up? Do you know of something terrible that happened in your family? Do you know the story of your birth?”

“We were blown away,” the researcher said.

Related Article: Getting it Right: Five ways Bruce Feiler taught me how to be a better parent

Rachel Trotter's 6 children. "Children are happy, well-adjusted and confident when they know their family stories. "
Rachel Trotter’s 6 children

The children’s answers told whether they had a sense of being part of a larger family, the research stated. Children with the most self-confidence have a strong “intergenerational self.” They know they belong to something bigger than themselves.

(Maybe the reason I was such an angel child was that my parents always told family stories. Just ask my mother, just ask her. She’ll totally tell you I was perfect.)

Anyway, back to Bruce Feiler. He goes onto clarify that while all stories carry meaning, some are better than others.

The most helpful narrative is one called the “oscillating family narrative” which goes something like this: “Darlin’, we’ve had good times and we have had some doozies. But no matter what happened, we always stuck together.”

I love that they’re not advising us to Clorox the tale.

Bruce Feiler said, "The single most important thing you can do with your family may be the simplest. Develop a strong family narrative."The bottom line of his work: if you want a happier, more resilient family then intentionally create and retell the story of your family’s positive moments and your ability to get through the difficult ones. This one simple act may increase the odds that all of our families will thrive for generations to come.

Really, I could stop here because this is reason enough to tell family stories. Still, we have two more. The second point in our thesis is this:

2. Stories turn random events into meaning

Since the dawn of creation, humans have been telling stories around the fire. The Bible is in a story format for a reason. (Except for the parts we skim over—those aren’t stories.)

In short, story is how we teach and how we inspire. Story has the power to change people.

Get The Story of My Life by Helen Keller on Amazon
Get The Story of My Life by Helen Keller on Amazon

Here is one of my favorite examples of how story shapes meaning. In Helen Keller’s autobiography the part that stuck with me is where she describes how as a girl, the world existed for her as amorphous shapes that she did not understand. It was not until she gained language that she fully awakened. The ability to describe the world and put it into words made everything come alive for her. She came alive. As she discovered the world through language, she discovered her purpose in it.

Humans are wired for this. We walk around assigning meaning through language throughout each day. We’re all storytellers in our heads, and most of us will tell anybody who will listen. With just a few facts, we are capable of shaping an entire narrative about what our lives mean.

No story, no meaning.

Finally, our third belief is this:

3. Stories are only the way we will be remembered

My daughter will know her namesake through the power of storyThere was no way I could have known when I began writing my parents’ story that one day I would have a little girl named after my dad, and that she would only know him through the book. Without stories passed on, she would share a name with a headstone but not have a connection to the funny grandpa, the passionate entrepreneur, and the in-love husband that he was.

Maybe there’s a great article or study to back up this third point, but instead I’d like to propose this exercise:

How many of your eight great-grandparents can you name from memory? Do details and personality traits come to mind about each of them? Do you know how you take after these ancestors or how you don’t? What were their heartbreaks and joys?

Am I right that the ones you remember have stories attached?

It is curious to me that we spend so much money on granite markers to withstand time, yet these markers only provide a name and a date, maybe a quote. Stone monuments tell nothing about people’s lives or what they learned in their time on earth. It’s a sobering thought to me that by the time the last person dies who personally knew me, the ONLY memory will be stories passed down. Two generations, that’s all it will take to wipe out all memory of me.

The Power of Story in Your Life:

In my experience doing family interviews, writing and speaking, most people intuitively know the value of personal history, but they’re burdened by the work. They don’t know where to start, or they don’t believe they have the writing skills. That is why we started Evalogue.Life. We know that preserving stories can be fun and that it can create closeness among families. We’ve experimented and figured out easier ways. We’ve curated free tools and resources to inspire you to get working.  We created this business to freely share what we learn and to help other families leave a lasting legacy.

Explore our resources pages:

 

 

Rhonda Lauritzen

 

By Rhonda Lauritzen, founder and an author at Evalogue.Life, where we tell personal and family stories that inspire. (Let us help you tell yours!) Rhonda lives to hear and tell about people’s lives, especially the uncanny moments. She and her husband Milan restored an old Victorian in Ogden and work together in Evalogue.Life, weaving family and business together.

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2 thoughts on “The Power of Story

  • November 30, 2016 at 6:37 am
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    Wow! Rhonda, very very cool. I wish you all the success in the world. And I hope you never run out of stories to tell, and to help tell.

    Reply
    • November 30, 2016 at 2:14 pm
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      Thanks so much, Corey. Your encouragement means a lot, especially during a start-up phase that is by nature a bit scary.

      Reply

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