Why I Believe in the Power of Story

It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

I believe in the power of story.

Story is where we came from. Story is where we’re going. Story is what connects us and binds us to each other. It is in the story of humanity, amongst love and fear and failure, that we make meaning of our lives.

Story is what defines us and sets us apart. It’s what allows us to connect with each another, to truly know and be known.

Story is powerful.

Story is grossly misunderstood.

A good story has conflict, but ultimately resolves. A story is messy and full of confusion, but there is meaning and completeness to it. A story is about people and places, not ideas and concepts.

Stories are concrete, absolute, and certain. Yet, they are mysterious. Stories have natural momentum to them, fueling our passion to find out more from the teller.

Stories are laden with bait and intrigue, with suspense and tension. Stories are provocative.

The secret to living a better story

If a story is about a character who overcomes conflict to get what she wants, what does my story look like today? On my couch, with my dog, in front of the TV? At Starbucks, with a laptop and iPhone? What does a compelling story look like in my living room? What’s my character’s motivation for watching The Bachelor?

What does the protagonist do when he is wrong or late to a meeting? What is the meaning of seemingly mundane events: indigestion, boredom, or allergies? Are these our allies? Or adversaries? (Or maybe the smaller details are what keep the viewer interested?)

If our lives are like comic books or movies, we may find ourselves in between the frames. This is where real life is lived: stuck somewhere in between a major plot point, in between reels. And it’s what makes us feel unsatisfied. This does not mean there isn’t meaning or consequence to what you’re doing or experiencing; it just means there is no manual for this part. No script.

This is the director cut.

Sure, it happened, but it’s implied, not shown. You don’t actually see it unfolding. It’s like Jason Bourne going to the bathroom or eating Cheerios; it happens, but you don’t see it.

This is how our lives are different from the movies we watch. While we are living stories, there is no fast-forward button through the tough scenes or the mundane ones. It can seem hard and pointless, but in actuality, it’s quite compelling.

We’re only in the rising action. And we can’t see what’s around the corner. And this is our greatest challenge: to make meaning of the moments in between the frames. To believe, in spite of our circumstances, that some great plot is being woven beneath the surface.

I believe in the power of story and that our lives should be tales worth telling.

Do you?

32 thoughts on “Why I Believe in the Power of Story

  1. So true – we’re living a story.

    My one strong belief is that encouragement changes the world around me.  Encouragement between husbands & wives creates better marriages.  Encouragement builds bridges and transforms situations with hope.

    Thank you for the reality check, Jeff.

  2. I believe my well-lived story writes a chapter in someone else’s story. Hopefully it inspires and provokes their own story. Hopefully my story paves the way for better stories after me.

  3. I wrote a post as a response to Cindy Gallop’s prompt (invent the future) in Ralph Waldo Emerson writing challenge, initiated by The Domino Project. My response was a little story by the wonderful mystic Anthony de Mello, called Enlightenment:

    The Master was an advocate both of Learning and of Wisdom. “Learning”, he said when asked, “is gotten by reading books or listening to lectures”.”And Wisdom”?”By reading the book that is You”.He added as an afterthought: “Not an easy task at all, for every minute of the day brings a new edition of the book.So my answer is: I am re-publishing The Book of Me, each and every day. And I will do that as long as I breathe.

  4. I thought this was wonderful! You are so right 🙂 In my speaking and writing career, what HELPS people is directly related to how I wrap a truth in a story –often my own and sometimes someone’s else’s. Thanks for sharing. This was excellent!

  5. Jeff
    As you know I believe Christians that have hope in their heart should consider sharing their story with others which led to the creation of http://www.the315project.com

    What started as a quiet whisper idea has led me down a yellow brick road of obedience and putting my faith in Him instead of me. The story is unfolding but I have confidence that there will be a Joyful ending if I continue to place my trust in Him.

    Proverbs 3:5-6

  6. Ever since reading Don Miller’s book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, I have been consuming content about living a better life story and trying to apply the principle to my life. I’m particularly drawn to the idea of creating memorable scenes. I specifically try to apply this with my family by getting out and DOING stuff instead of getting sucked in by the tv or laziness.

  7. You have encouraged me to tell more/better  stories!  Absolutely the best post I have read this year!  It is amazing how your blog has changed the way I look at things. 

  8. Jeff,
    I am so glad I found your site. This is the post I needed to read and one of the best ones I’ve come across on finding one’s story which is what I am in the process of doing for my memoir. Thanks for your excellent,timely tips.

  9. great thoughts, jeff!  i couldn’t agree more with you on the power and importance of story.  and i like that reminder…we’re only in the rising action!  well said, well said!

  10. Jeff  -I am new to your blog and love it. I am inspired personally and professionally after reading your words.   I really value this post and think it is a wonderful creed for sharing story.  

  11. Love this post, Jeff.   Heard in church this morning a quote from James Thurber  “All men should strive to learn before they die what they are running from, and to, and why.”   In the process of figuring this out we are living our stories.  And, you are right, those stories, those lessons, are worth sharing with others.  The longer I live the more I realize that it is often littlest things (the in between) that have taught me the greatest lessons.   

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