An opinion piece on Barack Obama – What Happened to Obama? – in the New York Times on Monday is also a magnificent case study in storytelling. It’s a short, powerful read and worth your time, regardless of whether you think it’s an accurate portrait of the US president.
It’s often said that language is the greatest invention of man. But well before literacy emerged, stories were the primary way people transmitted knowledge, values and context to others. In other words, life is stories, and vice versa. Whether we like it or not, they’re an integral part of who we are.
Stories help us understand the continuity of life: from re-capping what has happened to us (and why), to assessing where we are today, to imagining how our tomorrow may be different.
Meaningful stories are comprised of key ingredients: above all else, protagonists and villains. One plays off the other, to show context. The protagonist may not be like us, but they must be someone we can identify. This element of putting ourselves in the story demonstrates our need for emotion. Emotions are what truly inspire us to act and change. Facts persuade, but emotions motivate.
By their very nature, stories are dynamic. They allow the storyteller to connect with their audience: to influence, mentor and guide. They allow the audience to connect with the storyteller: to consider what’s been said, be inspired and learn, to change.