Christine Macdonald yesterday posted on her blog a reminiscent piece about what Sex and the City gave her.
Sex and the City not only gave me the gift of entertainment (wrapped in a bow of laughter and tears), it helped me see I was worth more and gave back a piece of myself I had sacrificed in my pursuit for the perfect man. Through watching the relationships on the show, it opened my mind and helped me choose curtain number three – where I eventually found a great man who is not the male model type guy I used to seek out, but he’s kind, honest and loving. He treats me better than any man I’ve ever dated. He’s Harry to my Charlotte.
That got me to thinking about the profound ways in which stories affect us.
The latest issue of The Human Givens Journal (Vol 18 No 1) contains several articles on the psychological effects of stories. (I’ve found the Human Givens approach a godsend for psychoanalyzing and creating my fictional characters.) Stories hypnotize, not just in their content but how they are told, including the cadence of the voice as one speaks them. When a story touches you, it can touch your imagination, open your mind, make the possible seem inevitable. It stands to reason that if you surround yourself with stories that edify, you’ll have a rich, full life.
And if you surround yourself with stories that limit your imagination, that’s what you’ll get. I loved this TED talk by novelist Chimamanda Adichie, on the danger of a single story. Originally from Nigeria, she’s has encountered and overcome a number of mistaken prejudices, all supported by the stories that people told about this place called “Africa.” And she even faced a few of her own, which dissipated in the light of new stories that challenged them. If we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk critically misunderstanding others.
Stories play a core role in shaping our opinions, our visions, our personalities, our world-views:
Watching Gilmore Girls has influenced my storytelling more than I can account for, because it was on the air during those formative years while I was trying to discover my writing style. And Amy Sherman-Palladino’s storytelling values moved me to specialize in character stories. Just think about it: were it not for Gilmore Girls, I might be writing successful space operas today.
Many years ago, political stories told by people like Harry Browne and James Bovard turned me into a hard-core, freedom-loving libertarian. And their lingering effect now clarifies for me the differences between my views and those of Rand Paul (who does not AFAIK call himself a “libertarian”).
Those are just a few examples from my own experience, from the top of my head. I’m sure we all have our own long list of important stories, because as humans, we are story creatures.
So remember, even if you don’t write nonfiction, the stories you tell make a difference in the lives of your audience.
P.S. In what ways have stories helped form your own personality and world-view, or affected the quality of your life?