“A people are as healthy and confident as the stories they tell themselves. Sick storytellers can make nations sick. Without stories we would go mad. Life would lose its moorings or orientation….”
Ben Okri, Bonsai Master
Once upon a time we lived in a small city--not too different from a place you've lived--where stories abounded in the social areas of a retirement village like echoes in a concrete tunnel. Parents, aunties, grandparents crossed paths and asked, “did you hear?” That of course was the problem: none of them could hear worth a fiddler’s bow so the stories twisted and convulsed like the stinging tentacles of a jelly fish. Their exciting fabrications followed visiting relatives to the coffee shops, phone lines and emails where they vibrated throughout the town.
“Why would you want to think that about them?” was considered a rudely irrelevant question and spoiled their wanton fun.
Pioneers trudging across the Nebraska prairies and Utah flats had enough troubles without conjuring imagined slights, childish rivalries and probable scandals. Their total involvement with life and death warns us to also move with deliberation while telling new stories in our present. The ruts permanently carved in the earth outlasted the small graves dug twenty paces from the wagon trail. The burials left behind were no less part of the story.
In organizations as in families, bored people simper and whisper jealousies. Story tellers without vision wander between diatribes and selfish tantrums. People without a compass bog down in “it seems to me.” Guilt turns us to finger pointing, with conjured blame hurled like sharpened fence posts in a tornado. Opinion sucks us into sinkholes lacking the underpinning of the insoluble truth rock.
In contrast, people fully living their lives search for clarity in the present moment. Their story, like a paring knife turns readily to the subject, cutting off the brown spots of bruise and early rot. It just takes too much energy to preserve the dark tales. We don’t deny them. But as we can choose the thoughts we coddle in our brain, we can choose to tell stories of life, a story to live by.
“Stories can conquer fear, you know. They can make the heart larger.”