3 Reasons that Literature and Stories Are Important in Life, in College, and at Work
It seems that our media lives are increasingly filled by reality TV, social media, and video gaming that provide entertainment but that cannot fulfill the vital place that stories play in our lives. Throughout the ages and across all cultures, stories in the form of literature and oral storytelling have provided living and deeply felt interpersonal connections, emotionally charged cathartic releases, the learned wisdom that comes from our own and others’ reflected experience, and a meaningful depth to life that is grounding and fulfilling.
When we look at reality TV, social media, and video gaming, we see that their quick pace and our nomadic links make such experiences substantially different from that of literature and storytelling. The narrative aspects of reality TV and video gaming provide engaging props, but they do not have the relationally connective force of an interpersonally lived story.
3 Crucial Questions to Answer about Literature and Storytelling
Why are literature and storytelling so important?
Why are literature and storytelling different from all other mediated narratives?
And what does this mean for our lives—lives that we want to be well lived at school, at home, in the workplace, and in the world?
The Importance of Literature and Storytelling through the Ages
Literature and stories and the other arts have been central to the rise of all great civilizations and cultures. At their best, literature and stories are ennobling. Through our lived experience with deeply moving stories, we can become stronger, wiser, more mature persons—better able to take on the challenges of school, life, and work. We learn from King Lear’s life, his errors and tragic losses, and his lessons learned.
From Langston Hughes’s poem “A Dream Deferred” and Emily Dickinson’s “We never know how high we are,” we read the weights and burdens of race, class, and gender that “warp” the soul that “sags like a heavy load.” And yet, too, we read in these poems that “we are called to rise;/ And then, if we are true to plan,/ Our statures touch the skies--” and we may “explode” with the creative force of poetry, song, and life.
The Importance of Literature and Storytelling Today in a Mediated World
The pace of life around the world has picked up and at times seems to quicken by the day. As our lives are increasingly spent in the mediated worlds of gaming, social media, and reality TV, our moorings in time and place become unmoored, unbounded, and freed through the dynamic motion of digital networks that cross and re-cross lives, locations and times.
The connections made possible through technology are indeed wondrous. You receive, read, and ponder this blog somewhere in the world that is not here where I am right now. Indeed only I know where I am pondering and writing these words at this moment. And, too, you receive and read and consider this blog in your present moment that, for me, occurs in my future.
These connections are also how the words of literature and story rise above their creative moments of origin. When we connect with a story or work of literature, we do so because it holds relevance and value to our own lives and selves. Too, as my writing moment becomes your reading experience, the connective power of language and narrative enables you to be part of the unfolding words here—in your own way, making them yours.
My responsibility is to provide sufficient and engaging openings for you to read yourself into the writing. Then you are able to become a co-creator of what you are reading, transforming the words through your own considered thoughts and response. In this way, what I offer to you becomes that much more. You see, it is the relational connectivity in language that gives it deeply felt and experienced meaning.
We can use the connective functions of technology to make real and lived connections. It is through social media that I am able to share these thoughts, words, stories, and poetry with you.
3 Reasons That Literature and Storytelling Are Important in Our Lives
1. Relationships that Matter: When we share stories with each other, we become part of those shared stories—for better and for worse. When we read, listen to, and watch stories as written literature, heard stories, and viewed film/video, we connect with the characters and also with the author, storyteller, director and performers through the creative work. There are many reasons why many viewers connect deeply to the characters of soap operas, TV shows such as Friends, and books such as J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.
These are real relationships for us in that we experience them and, ideally, become fuller persons through these connections. Rich lives throughout the ages and across cultures have always meant the richness of friends and family in the world. What is less understood is that such full lives also include the “friends and family” we have come to know through stories, scripture, and literature.
2. Experiences That Are Deeply Felt: When we read literature, listen to stories, and watch films and videos, we literally and literarily experience aspects of those narratives as if we were part of the ongoing action. This is the magic of verisimilitude which means what is similar to verity or truth, what looks like truth and reality. Often in a great work of literature or film, we lose ourselves in it because the narrative is so compelling. It draws us in. Then through our emotions and thoughts, we become part of the narrative experience after our own fashion and through the degree of our connection. We feel the feelings evoked in the text.
3. Words That Are Pondered, Considered, Reflected Upon: In addition to feeling emotionally connected to a story or work of literature, what is different about oral storytelling and written literature are their capacities to engage us within a temporality that can slow down our lives and provide moments of reflection, consideration, even the depth of contemplation. When Emily Dickinson tells us that “There is no frigate like a book/ To take us lands away,” she ends her poem explaining that the deeply felt and considered experience of literature literally moves the “human soul.”
And it is this very experience that can be deeply transforming as is true of any deeply felt and reflected upon experience. It is from experience that is reflected upon that we gain wisdom. We can do this from our own experiences. We can also learn from others. We oft hear that by learning history, we avoid repeating the errors of the past. Would that it were so easy to stop making errors in life. But through the depth of literary experience, we can gain the wisdom of the ages bit by bit and, via this blog, byte by byte.
SO, LITERATURE AND STORIES MATTER. They matter deeply, for our lives, our functioning in the world, in our families, at work, and in school. Stories are the threads that stitch together the worn and torn fabric of the world, but it is through our reflections, our consideration, and our applications of what we have learned that is the stitching so needed for the betterment of our lives, our families, our communities, and the whole world.