Storytelling

I have this developing obsession with storytelling. I’ve always enjoyed stories. I won a competition in third grade for most books read over the summer. I got a “Dino-mite!” reader button which I think I still have somewhere. I vividly remember the feeling of pride as I walked to the front of the classroom to claim my award.

Just recently I’ve begun to recognize the great power of storytelling. I’m beginning to understand how much stories influence our reality. The stories we tell ourselves, the stories we tell other people, and the stories other people tell us. My belief is that “reality,” from my subjective perspective, is nothing more than my perception of the world. Perception changes based on the lenses through which we view it, and stories shape those lenses. Sometimes dramatically. An adept storyteller can take a set of “facts” and without deception, change the perception of reality through persuasive narrative.

I want to underscore how powerful I believe this effect is without deception. As a professional persuasive storyteller, I view this as a power to be given great respect. I feel a sense of responsibility to use it ethically. This is moral thin-slicing, in my view, but crucial. In my business, half-truths, bent truths, and outright lies are more prolific than urban Starbucks. So common in fact, my colleagues and I don’t even find their discovery all that interesting, generally. They’re just an accepted part of the landscape of our business.

Deception is boring. Lies are easy. I’m much more interested in how the “truth” is packaged. And where the line exists between packaging of the “truth,” and when it starts to bend. Can you see that? Why it’s so important? Before the truth is bent or diluted, it is the truth. It is bent, it is diluted, it is distorted through storytelling. But it is also told without deception through stories.

For me, the concept of truth becomes this philosophical meditation.  If I can tell you a true story that changes your perception of reality, how do you even define “truth”?

It makes my brain hurt. This is not to say that nothing is knowable or provable. Not every fact is a “fact” in quotes. But I think, as a general matter, human experience is a lot less knowable or provable than we’d like to think it is. The lesson in my mind is this: with great power, comes great responsibility. Be very careful with the stories you tell other people, and with the stories you will accept from other people. But above all, be diligent with the stories you tell yourself.

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