“… stories are what make our lives worth living.”
— Richard Kearney
Life is boring and monotonous. We spend most of the day sitting in lectures we don’t want to attend, hoping that time will change the laws of physics and pass quickly.
While we are sitting in that boring lecture our friend tells us about his/her crush and how that crush doesn’t respond to their text messages. We forget about the rambling of our teacher and escape into the cool anecdote our friend is telling. That is what stories do—help us escape the humdrum routine we call life.
We all have experienced a time when our phone vibrated and we saw a text informing us about a deadline to complete assignments. That was frustrating, and all we wanted to do was delete that message and pretend that we haven’t seen it. Alas! The deadline had stressed us and we couldn’t pretend to be cool about it. Instead of completing those assignments we would pick our T. V. remote and watch movies, or television shows, or we would play video games or read a book. And in doing so we would forget about the stress while subconsciously traveling in unknown worlds, going on a journey to defeat the ominous Big Bad, shoot bullets at aliens and monsters. We used stories to calm our stressful minds.
Doing dishes, brushing teeth, cooking food isn’t interesting and so we turn towards stories to make our life interesting. After all where else can you be a Knight in a Shining Armour? Where else can you stand toe to toe with demons and eldritch abominations, and win? Where else can you stare in wonder as the black hole devours everything around you? Where else can you soar among the stars, seeing the towering nebulae clouds, witness a supernova? Where else can you hold a conversation with a dragon that hoards treasure, or meet a foul mouthed dwarf?
Stories doesn’t limit its advantages to just helping you escape from a monotonous life. It also allows you to glimpse into another perspective, to hear another voice. We see world through someone else’s eyes. We know what it is to be a poor boy from a metropolitan city and we know what it is to live in the India of 1947.
Stories help us educate, to understand things in a more interesting manner. I knew a girl who was a good dancer. We used to tell her how she could succeed if she tried to make a career in dancing and she would ignore it. But one fine day she watched Aamir Khan starrer 3 Idiots and then the rest was history. When we see Will Smith punching bad guys and talking with aliens, we know that black people, too, can be heroes and racism sucks.
Societies has used stories to reinforce societal norms. Our parents would tell us stories which had morals like Being greedy is bad, One must not lies, etc. Through stories they communicated with us our histories and culture, our values and ethics.
We use stories to not only learn but pose questions, to speculate. What would happen if we found another sentient race? What would happen when meet an extraterrestrial race? It helps us explore possibilities. What would happen when nations fight a war? What would happen when one murders their spouse? Stories bring order and meaning to the chaos and randomness of life.
All stories follow the pattern of having a beginning, a middle and an end. This makes them satisfying because we fear the unknown—our own end. Having a narrative that ends gives us hope that this monotonous, and sometimes awful part of our life will end. Isn’t our life just a search for personal stories?
Even though when we know that stories are fabrication of lies, a fiction, they elicit powerful emotions within us. I still remember biting my lips when I read Harry duelling with the snake-nosed Voldemort. I prayed, while reading sentence after sentence, for Harry Potter’s win. Even though I have watched The Dictator a few times, I still snork at Baron Cohen’s comic timing and acting. Because stories can elicit powerful emotional responses, they are powerful tools that can alter lives. They can be used to persuade people and change societies.
George R. R. Martin, the creator of the famous show Game of Thrones and equally famous book series A Song of Ice and Fire, once said, “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who doesn’t read lives only one.” There’s a caveat to this quote. If I were someone of importance, I’d change the quote to, “Someone who consumes stories lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who doesn’t consumes stories lives only one.” I have lived the lives of a eleven-year-old wizard, a gunslinger, a god’s son, and that of a hobbit with furry feet. How many lives have you lived?