For millennia, humans have sat before fires, huddled together on cold, dark nights and told each other stories. Mothers and fathers have sent their children off to sleep adrift on fairy tales for ten thousand years. And before our species even knew language, we drew symbols of magic and hunting and death on caves to express and share our experience.
Story has the power to foster strength, wisdom, and courage.
Even cavemen knew the stories we tell matter. The stories we believe in shape and create our world view. They fashion our identity. Fortunately for me, firefighters are some of the best storytellers I have ever heard. Around the dining room table, cup of coffee in hand, they will tell stories so bleak, you’ll laugh and so funny, you’ll cry. They’ll recount calls and fires and individual humiliations in dramatic and precise detail. Often the exact address of events is recited as if this somehow clarifies everything.
We tell tales of birth and death, fire and darkness, love and murder, and more often than not, stories of hysterical, unbelievable absurdity. Often the funniest stories are about our own– the Brotherhood– with its false starts and slips and sometimes catastrophic falls. In a few words, a firefighter who hasn’t read a book since the academy, can sum up the human condition and capture the absurdity of existence in a way no college professor ever can.
The stories we tell matter. They tell us what to expect and what is expected of us. They weave threads of wisdom throughout our culture to serve as markers on our path, hinting at dangers, pointing toward boons. Sometimes we tell small, petty stories which make no one stronger. Gossip. Slander. These stories, usually false, diminish rather than increase our humanity.Â Often they divulge more about the storyteller than the subject. Why? Because, our stories are a reflection of our mind streams and experience; therefore the stories we choose to tell, reveal our own character.
What stories do you collect and pass on? What shows do you watch, books do you read? Choose carefully. The right kind of stories can transform our mind and dreams.
We must never underestimate the power of our stories. Most people will not witness such bloody acts of human failure or quiet nobility as consistently as we do. Somehow, our stories strangle meaning out of the carnage, and when meaning is nowhere to be found, at least we can all sit around a table drinking coffee together and having a really good laugh. It’s so much cheaper than therapy and a helluva a lot more fun.