Why (Good, Ethical) Storytelling is Going to be the Thing That Saves Us

By Josh Rivedal 

Storytelling has been a huge part of my life for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I could never figure out why the other boys hated doing the school play so much. For me, it was the best thing ever—even better than the day I discovered chocolate and bacon got married to create a super-candy. 

As an adult I made storytelling my profession: playwriting, acting, speaking, and book-writing. The work I was (and am) doing with storytelling and suicide prevention had a profound effect on me. Not only was I sharing my story but others were sharing theirs in return. Why were their stories giving me hope, helping me change my perspective on the world, and causing my feet to move in a new direction? What was it about storytelling that made it so effective?

A bit of research ensued—I put a collect call in to my old friend The Internet. And The Internet accepted the charges. 

Here’s why storytelling is so powerful and why we can wield it to do great things: 

According to Annie Murphy Paul, author of “Brilliant: The New Science of Smart,” she says that when we listen to stories, more of the brain lights up, Stories cause your neurons to fire the same way they would if you were doing the actual action talked about. For example, if you were listening to someone talk about kicking a ball, the motor part of the brain that would help you kick a ball in real life lights up.

In fact, in his “Scientific American” article Jeremy Hsu found that: “Personal stories and gossip make up 65% of our conversations.”Now, whenever we hear a story, we want to relate it to one of our existing experiences. That’s why metaphors work so well with us. Whilst we are busy searching for a similar experience in our brains, we activate a part called insula, which helps us relate to that same experience of pain, joy, disgust or else.”

We can use this storytelling connection and sharing our souls, in an effort to leverage the story into having the listener take action. 

Businesses will often do the same thing when they tell a story about their company or “brand narrative.”

When someone talks about their recovery story or healing story, or how they got help—the brain, in some way, begins to fire up with the possibility that they could take the same or similar action of the storyteller: healing, recovery, or getting help. 

Of course there are lots of ways to tell a story, and an even greater amount of desired outcomes. But everyone has an important story to tell, whether or not they yet know how to tell it. And you have an important story to tell as well. And sometimes a story is not told through words but by the actions one takes and the life they lead.  

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