Why You Should Read
“The un-examined life is not worth living.” -Socrates
We all know the first stories were drawings on cave walls, followed by oral story telling, and the ancients chronicaling the lives and accomplishments of their gods and heroes. In these stories can be seen a desire to remember great events and understand the world around us. Stories of war and love and loss were passed down through generations–and can now be read in books and online by anyone with access. Myths and legends sprang up around the unexplainable and seemingly supernatural–and now we study them in classrooms all over the world. As people learned and nations grew, the stories evolved. We began to examine the world through all kinds of new genres of writing, and at multiple levels of society. We increasingly set aside unscientific explanations for the processes of nature and the universe, and turned to the novel for mythologizing. We now look to characters that we know to be fiction, but who teach us who we should and shouldn’t be all the same.
In all of this change, there remains one constant: the desire to communicate. What story has ever been told that was not intended to be heard? Arguably, none. Our need to connect to one another has bridged time, culture, language, and so much more; because, not only do we write, but we preserve. We collect these stories, and pass them on to the next generation. This means that Lady Murasaki can still speak to us from 11th century Japan, along with Anne Frank from the Holocaust and Socrates from Ancient Greece. We completely take for granted how amazing this is, and we often fail to recognize the significance. In the end, we are all stories.
From the time we are young, we are shaped by the stories left behind by people who came before us. From fairy tales to unconscious social rhetoric, this inheritance shapes who we are and how we see the world. Stories tell us what is good and what is bad. They tell us how to live and love. Sometimes, we can even become trapped in these stories, which may foster unrealistic expectations or outdated views. Stories can inform our perceptions, and shape our whole world. In the end, what is left behind to define us, are the stories people will tell of us.
Isn’t that amazing? To think that we are–at least in part–just the living interpretations and amalgamation of the stories we consume? We speak in stories, and live in stories. The memory of your lost loved one is a story. The career you choose to pursue is a story. Even the ad on TV is a story! And we are all consciously and unconsciously hanging on to the bits we like, and weaving them into the fabric of our being. So in the end, we are all made of the same stories–the same words.
What if we could trace all those stories back to a single source, like DNA? What if we could prove that all stories are connected? This would tell us that it isn’t just a common ancestor or stardust that we share–though that is amazing enough on it’s own. It would tell us that we are connected simply by being who we are. We are each a unique expression of the collective stories of the world. We are connected–across time and space–by what we’ve suffered, who we’ve loved, and how we’ve lived. Because as any English teacher will tell us, these are universal themes.