Friday, 6 January 2012

Stories Make us Human

In this New Year we will all resolve to do some things better and to stop doing other things completely but how many of us will resolve to tell a good story? Yet it is the ability to tell a good story that separates us out from simply being animals or machines. Paul Ricour identifies the basic construct of narrative as story which includes a beginning, middle and end but we all know that stories are much more subtle than this. While the words narrative and story are used interchangeably I think there is a difference in that narrative is often a collection of stories but here I want to point out the meaning of story as a human construct.

We all see things as they are which may not be the same as each other. We use language to communicate what we see either in words, numbers, music or art. So far a machine could do all of these things and often does in health and social care. Then we use passion to transfer the emotional content of the story either in the writing or the telling. Try telling a child a story in monotone - they will soon lose interest if you are unable to engage them emotionally so that they can understand the characters of the story. A good film or book or piece of music or art will also reach out to us emotionally so that we can recognise or associate ourselves with the characters in the story or song.

In an age of technical rationality (and machines doing everything for us) we are at risk of losing the art of telling stories because they may be ignored as unreliable evidence or even untruths. Once we begin to call stories lies we have lost their essence or passion and fail to listen to what is really going on. They may of course be untrue but the story is what makes each and every one of us human beings trying to communicate our own interpretation of an event. If you ignore the story you ignore the person and what it is to be a member of the human race. We may all be what Arthur Frank terms wounded storytellers but that does not mean that we do not have a story to tell.

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