Season 2,
45 Min

Episode 50: How Stories make us more Human

April 24, 2017

Stories are the operating system of human consciousness and myths are culture-specific upgrades, each new version bringing out new features and retiring some old ones.

Yes indeed, we have a compulsion to turn almost everything into a story. Joseph Campbell has claimed it is the distinguishing mark of our species. The thing that makes us different from all other animals is not our emotional complexity or even our intellect, but our ability and indeed need  to tell stories.  So why do we need stories? What do they do for us?

How can stories make us more human?

We spend more time within the realm of story than you might think.  This not only includes our time spent reading or watching TV or films.  It also includes our propensity to constantly daydream — playing out potential real life scenerios in our heads or replaying our version of past events.  It includes the way we answer social questions such as “How are you?” Or “How was your weekend?” Even things from advertisements to watching sports are taken out of the realm of simplistic facts and instead woven into stories about what might happen if you buy this product (for instance the awesome Apple ads of 2016) or the background story of this particular athelete.

In fact we spend so much of our day in within stories that Jonathan Gottschall of The Storytelling Animal, has claimed “Neverland is our evolutionary niche, our special habitat.”


In this episode, Clay and Sarah discuss:

* The importance of Story in the way we process information

* The way story by-passes our critical and evaluative faculties (and thus can be incredibly persuasive)

* How much we are surrounded by stories every day

* Are stories ever just pure escapism?

* The practical importance of stories – using story to play out potential scenerios

* How stories help us engage with our inner emotional worlds and help us approach the Big Life Questions

* The most important themes in story

* What stories are currently impacting Clay and Sarah’s worldviews and influencing the decisions they make about how to live


Nature is ruthlessly utilitarian, Jonathan Gottschall points out.  So it would seem nature would have long ago phased out stories in our lives. And yet…

“Story is not only our most prolific art form but rivals all activities…We tell and take in stories as much as we sleep,” says Robert McKee author of Story.  Why? Because McKee explains, “Day after day we seek an answer to the ageless question Aristotle posed in Ethics: How should a human being lead his life? But the answer eludes us.

In his book Myths to Live By, Joseph Campbell has a similar answer — that our outward focus which helps us address the demands of our day may cause us to lose touch with the inner forces at play in our lives.  As both Campbell and Jung explain, stories and myths are a means of bringing us back in touch with those inner forces and deeper questions.

According the Campbell then, there are three important themes of myth: the mortality of human nature, the way the individual relates with his social group, the relation between the individual and the natural world/universe.

Stories are actually essential in helping us explore and understand the world, our society and our innermost selves.  Stories shape our entire worldview.  They show us the many shades of grey, the complexities of situations and moral dilemmas and intimate relationships.  They can reveal how people can be strong in certain ways and weak in others.  How people can be both good and bad–and usually never one or the other. And considering how persuasive stories can be in bypassing many of our evaluative mental processes, perhaps we should pay more attention to what stories we consume.

What about you? What stories do you keep coming back to as a kind of guide for your life? Share your best-loved stories here or on the Facebook page.  We LOVE hearing from you!


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