The importance of stories to humans cannot be overstated. Well perhaps it can, but I’ve yet to see anybody succeed yet. 🙂 I’ve written about the importance of stories before. My interest in the subject began when reading the novels Name of the Wind and A Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss. It is clear that we learn from stories. In fact it is often suggested that as a method of pedagogy that we try to create narratives, try to use storytelling to teach. I’ve yet to find a way to do this with fluid dynamics, but when I think about how I retain knowledge best, it is certainly the ability to think in terms of stories, rather than a lose collection of facts. When teaching, even if you don’t have a story to tell, trying to create a common thread through your lessons does help.
A former student, and now friend, would often start a conversation with people she was just meeting and getting to know with the question “Tell me the story of your life.” I think it’s pretty easy to see our lives as a story. I am not sure though that this is something we do when we are adolescents. Perhaps we haven’t lived long enough, and it is unclear when this process begins, but at some point you will look at the past and forecast into the future and there will seem to be this story you are playing out.
But is this a good way of thinking about our lives? Sometimes I think we do this because it seems more interesting, and even though I still think there is a lot of values to stories, perhaps we shouldn’t be seeing our own life as a story.
Some philosophical meat to think about here is are you the same person in the past as you are in the future? Stories tend to follow a particular character who may change, but rarely as much as actual humans do. Is your 20 year old self the same as your 60 year old self? Maybe at best we are a series of shorter stories instead of one long story. Our desire for continuity and cause and effect perhaps extends the narrative for longer than it perhaps should.
More importantly when we think our life in terms of a story do we then sometimes predict the ending? Do we limit ourselves by having expectations based on this narrative we have about our lives? In a recent podcast I listened too, they profiled a family who had a story of their life. They were beekeepers, and when tragedy struck and it all came to an end, they could see themselves any other way. What they had been doing for 40 years was who they were. Their house decorated with bees. How do you change the story when life takes an unexpected turn? It can be very difficult to find happiness or contentedness when expectations do not match the reality of your situation. This podcast also did another episode where they talked about changing your story and how doing that can help us move on. We might find inspiration in others who have changed the story of their lives, we may also become limited by others who assume that we can’t change our story. Perhaps we have no choice but to see our lives as a story, and if we are going to do that, perhaps we just need to learn how to better hijack that process to write those new chapters that can take the story into a different direction.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject? Do you think of your life as a story? Do you think it’s good or bad that you do? Have you had to change your story unexpectedly? Was it difficult?
There is a nice discussion on the topic on another podcast I listen to if you are interested in thinking about this subject more.