The Importance of Stories

4 Nov

Ben Okri: Selection from Birds of Heaven: Aphorisms and Fragments, 1993

1

To poison a nation, poison its stories. A demoralized nation tells demoralized stories to itself.

Beware of story-tellers who are not fully conscious of the importance of their gifts, and who are irresponsible in the application of their art; they could unwittingly help along the psychic destruction of their people.

2

The parables of Jesus are more powerful and persuasive than his miracles.

3

Stories are as ubiquitous as water or air, and as essential. There is not a single person who is not touched by the silent presence of stories.

5

Great leaders understand the power of the stories they project to their people. They understand that stories can change an age, turn an era around.

7

Great leaders tell their nations fictions that alter their perceptions. Napoleon [and Hitler ] exemplified this, and made himself into an enthralling story….

8

All the great religions, all the great prophets, found it necessary to spread their message through stories, fables, parables. The Bible is one of the world’s greatest fountains of fiction and dream.

10

Alexander the Great conquered all of the known world. But Alexander himself was gently conquered by Homer.

11

Without fighting, stories have won over more people than all the great wars all together.

14

Stories are the secret reservoir of values: change the stories individuals or nations live by and tell themselves, and you change the individuals and nations.

19

In the beginning there were no stories.

20

That previous fragment is a story.

21

The universe began as a story.

22

When we have made an experience or a chaos into a story we have transformed it, made sense of it, transmuted experience, domesticated the chaos.

“…stories are important to people, politics, and education. Stories are how people make sense of themselves and their worlds. In young children’s spontaneous stories that they act out as they play, we can see how they believe people relate to one another, who they hope to become, and how they will behave. We can see adolescents play roles in their own and other people’s stories in order to figure out where they fit into their ever-expanding worlds. As adults, the true and imaginary stories we wish to tell and believe suggest what we value most in this world. In a real sense, stories make people.

For this reason, stories are political. Whose stories get told? What can those stories mean? Who benefits from their telling? These are political questions because they address the ways in which people’s identities — their beliefs, attitudes, and values — are created and maintained. These identities determine how we live together in and out of schools as much as school rules or governmental laws.” (Shannon, 1995, p. xi)

Chris Abani on the stories of Africa

From:  Shannon, P. (1995). Text, lies, and videotape: Stories about life, literacy, and learning. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.


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