Here’s an experiment you may like to try.
You get up tomorrow morning, with the purpose of going cold turkey on stories.
You will attempt to take them out of your life entirely.
So… no media consumption, no asking family members ‘how are you today?’ (you may well get a story) , no telling yourself as you look in the bathroom mirror ‘Tough day ahead, but hell, I’ve seen worse’.
No gossip, no strategy meetings, no imagining your holiday plans…
Soon you start to sense you can only live utterly in the present. Your own and other people’s memories are irrelevant – as are scenarios that create hope for the future. The here and now is all.
You start to feel uncertain, maybe slightly panicky… you are highly reactive now and have let go of your life’s tiller.
OK. TIME TO QUIT THE EXPERIMENT. PLEASE RE-ENTER YOUR STORIFIED LIFE.
Our Mirroring Brains
In the 1990s, neuroscientists in Italy identified ‘mirror neurons’ – brain cells in monkeys which fired on performing a task and when witnessing another monkey performing the same task. These firing mirror neurons may be the biological basis of empathy in humans, enabling us to feel strongly something from another person’s point-of-view.
All stories involve conflict and people being prevented from getting what they want, producing frustration, anger, bitterness and grief. We witness these emotions and our mirror neurons share the reaction, whether we want to or not.
If my pain is vivid enough – you will feel it.
A Story Explains
Our story telling is like the web, it never sleeps. Though we may remember few of our dreams, they may act as simulators of real-life problems we face. Waking up in a cold sweat a few weeks ago, dreaming that I was with a client but forgot who, I knew a break was due.
Imagery from dreams stays with us during our waking hours, when we cannot explain it, and when we don’t know what the story is.
For stories, along with comparison and contrast, are how we make sense of the world. An event arises, which creates a consequence and further events may unravel, triggered by the consequence. A leads to B leads to C and the comforting laws of cause and effect.
We Fill In The Gaps
Our desire for story as sense making is so strong, that if we are presented with vivid elements of a story, we will make the links up ourselves. Doctors often do this when they diagnose patients, and here Hitchcock shows how it works in film.
Here’s an experiment you can do immediately to show this. Consider these three elements : car swerve, parents rowing, eight year old child….now track your thoughts…
We Know How To Live
The bible is a collection of stories. And the reason why ‘religious beliefs’ contribute to higher reported happiness scores, may be to do with how these biblical stories help us cope with uncertainty.
It just helps us wrestle better with how we live, when we watch characters in The Wire, or The Sopranos or Breaking Bad wrestling with their morality.
As Jonathon Gottschall suggests in his ace book The Storytelling Animal, stories may give us ethical guidelines which permeate our psyches, so we understand there is greater common cause than just ourselves.
Which brings me to a great question of our time: does anyone have a good story for our economies?