I spend a lot of time thinking about stories. A lot. Some of that is because I’m a voracious reader. Some of that is because I am a content creator and so I tell a lot of stories. Some mine, some for clients, some to justify why the tooth fairy was such a stingy bastard this time round.
But mostly because stories are literally at the heart of everything. And that fascinates me.
Stories are defined by the dictionary as accounts of imaginary or real people, accounts of events, reports, plots, a particular person’s representation of the facts of a matter, information, rumours, news and more.
Countries are basically stories – they are literally imaginary lines in many cases. Imaginary lines where maybe one side speaks one language and the other a different one. Within a single country, different stories define culture, customs and dialect.
Currency is simply a story about how different people value metal and paper. Without the story there is no difference between a $50 note and wrapping paper. The story is what deems the wrapping paper to have a decorative use and the $50 a value.
Religion is made up of hundreds of different stories which overlap almost imperceptibly to some. In fact, very loosely, religions can be summarised by who you think the main character is and how important his/her story is to you.
Families are stories and often they are stories without happy endings despite our Hallmark tendency to eulogise the unit as the most important of all.
In the song Trial Before Pilate (from the Jesus Christ Superstar musical), Pilate sings to Jesus – “We all have truths, are yours the same as mine?” and I have always loved that challenge in stories, because all truths are different. As human beings we bring our own stories to every shared moment, thus imbuing it with a truth that is unique to us. Our own story, our own truth, is ours and ours alone. There is not a single other person on the planet that has the same perception of you, the same perception of the same events. Every single person you meet has a version of you that is entirely their own.
So if you meet one million people in your life time – there are one million true versions of you out there. You feature in one million stories. Sometimes you’re a lead character, and other times you are so insignificant you don’t rate a mention. Sometimes you’re in the story for a while, and other times, but a moment – but perhaps a moment of import, a moment that lingers, and shapes another story.
When we talk about brands having a story and the room rolls their eyes at what they deem your marketing wankspeak, they are contributing to the brand story. Their perceptions of a brand matter to its success. The people the brand hires become characters in the brand’s story. As businesses, we think long and hard about the people we employ because they are so critical to the story arc.
But we rarely employ the same stringent critique to our personal relationships, to the characters in our own story. It typically takes an incident, a tragedy if you will allow me to be so dramatic, before we assess how critical, how impactful they are, on our own story and the arc of the main character.
I’m fascinated by people that claim to know their partner or children better than they know themselves. It’s not possible. That is a story they tell to keep power in their own narrative irrespective of its truth. You can’t know anybody better than they know themselves, but you can tell your story more loudly, more repetitively, so that your story is the most heard. That ultimately is what history is – the retention of the stories told most loudly, by those who believe their version of events to be the most important.
Each and every one of us is a character that is fleshed out bit by bit, chapter by chapter, moulded by other characters, events and experiences. All of us impactful in small ways and big ways and good ways and bad ways. We are, at all times, both the storyteller and the story itself.
Stories are spoken. Stories are sung. Stories are written. Stories are painted. Turned into poems and movies and gardens and news reports and gossip and innuendo and inspiration and policy and the list goes on. And on.
Stories endure. That is their power.
Make yours one that you are proud to tell.