The Stories We Tell Matter

I’ve not been writing much recently.  In fact, if we’re being honest (and come, let us be completely honest here if nowhere else), I’ve not written any this year, at least not yet.

And yet, stories have been on my mind.  Not just my own (though not a day goes by where my mind doesn’t slip into another world of my own creation, whether it’s a close neighbor of this one or something further out), but the stories we as people tell.

I think there is a popular, pervasive thought that the stories we tell each other, that the books we read and the shows we watch and the movies we see and the little events in our lives that we recount, are all for entertainment.  They draw us in, pass the time, and maybe even show us some new ideas, but that is the end of it.

And that’s bullshit.

The stories we tell matter a lot.  They shape the world that we live in to an extent that I am just now realizing, and that I think few people think about.

By way of example, I’m going to post a link that I’ve posted before.  This time, the thrust of my arguments is wider, but this is an excellent example.  It’s called “We Have Always Fought“, by Kameron Hurley, and it’s about how women fighting in history is portrayed as unrealistic even though it happened all the time.

At least read the opening section.  I can wait.

That narrative shapes our expectations, our worldview, and how we treat others.  The stories we tell do that, and if we just told different stories, we would change our world.  Not the past – that is immutable, no matter how we may pick and choose (or misrepresent) what happened, but our world today.

But this isn’t just about minorities in fiction (though that’s important), or how badly we understand the past (we’re full of misconceptions – and this too is important), or helping the under-represented (though that is really important).  The foundation of our society is storytelling, and its effects are far-reaching.

It’s why we think electric cars are unsafe and we’re worried about fires…even though our current gasoline engines are far more likely to catch on fire.  It is part of why we are more afraid of flying than driving, even though you’re more likely to die on the drive to the airport (and the control argument there is only so-so there – you only control your own car, not the other idiots on the road that could sideswipe you before you can react).

It’s why we worry about strangers murdering us, or kidnapping our children, or raping us, even though each of those is far more likely to be someone that we know.  It’s why we feel even less safe than we did twenty years ago, even though violent crimes are down.

Every expectation we have of the way another city is, another country is, another group of people is, the way life is – these are from the stories that we tell.  The facts barely enter into it, and usually just the ones we want to help tell our story.

In the end, what matters more than what happened or the way things are is the way we tell the story.

So don’t tell me that your story doesn’t matter.  Don’t tell me that it’s just a light and airy thing, something to read and then move on from.  The stories we tell, as people and as writers, can change the world.  They build our world.  We are storytellers at heart.

The stories we tell matter.  Your story matters, your contribution to the narrative that builds the world matters.  So take pride and carry on writing the world.

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