The Storytelling Animal

February 25, 2019

"We are, as a species, addicted to story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories." - Jonathan Gottschall

 

This quote alone is what convinced me to pick up Gottschall's book, The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human. As a storyteller myself, I was intrigued that this need to to tell stories, to discover bits of ourselves and humanity that would otherwise elude us was, something that seemed inherently ingrained in all of us.

 

Gottschall makes a convincing argument too. He begins with the cavemen and argues how only homo sapiens created cave drawings in an effort to tell the stories of their hunt. It's this reason, he argues, that we survived and Neanderthals didn't. Our stories told of our successes and our failures, and it was through story that we taught each other.

 

His argument for why we dream follows in a similar vein. Our brains are busily conjuring some worst-case scenarios for us to learn from. This is why you don't tell Kathy that you think her pink leather jacket is ugly. Your brain informed you of the hundred ways that could go wrong. So, just tell her your opinions of fashion on the day you quit your job. At least you might not see her again. 

 

Perhaps Gottschall's most profound argument is our continuing attraction to narrative. How, as a species, we've developed technologies that allow us to continue to absorb story even if it isn't through book form. Our Theatre actors have turned to the Silver Screen and now we can role-play via video games. A wonderful piece of technology that allows us to become a part of the story as a sort of full immersion into a fantastical world with other characters to interact with. 

 

So, here's an idea. The next time you need to communicate something difficult or technical to someone, tell it through a narrative. It doesn't have to be overly elaborate; in fact, it probably shouldn't be so they don't feel like you're lying, but convey to them how your facts, your information, relates to them on a personal level. I think they'll be more receptive.

 

Also, you should read Gottschall's book. It's an excellent read. 

 

 

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