Friday, September 5, 2008

Once Upon a Time ...

Stories are certainly one of humankind's earliest inventions. It's likely that stories were told in sound and pantomime even before a rich verbal language was developed. The cave paintings at Lascaux and Altamira may be a form of storytelling, depicting events around hunting. Storytelling is mixed up with ritual and mythology at the formation of the very first religions. Certainly storytelling is fundamental to religions even today.

Less obvious is that storytelling also underlies science and discovery. Realistically, everything we know is reconstructed from the scant evidence our senses perceive. We look for causes and relationships, and reject or accept possibilities based on how they fit our understanding of how the world works.

Cognitive therapy, pioneered by Aaron Beck, is based on the view that our feelings and motivations are derived from what we perceive and believe about the world. In a sense, what we tell ourselves is real determines how we feel. So, again, our internal stories about the world shape how we experience it.

During the late 20th century, stories in the form of TV, radio and movies, from the U.S. and other Western European nations gained worldwide distribution. Also during this time, the Cold War ended, and some historians speculated that the "end of history" was at hand. Since then, technology has allowed media to again become fragmented into narrow-casts aimed at small demographic groups. Not surprisingly, the sense of globalization of ideas that seemed imminent in the late 20th century is now challenged by extremism from various non-Western European groups.

We are who we tell ourselves we are.

No comments: