The United States of Stories

Posted inCreative Voices

We are a nation built on memorable stories. Some are collective works, like The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Many more are individual, like in famous speeches that include the Ask Not Address by President Kennedy, the Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln, or Lectures on Physics by Richard Feynman. You can find our literary legacy in stories like Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin, and Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller. You can feel it in American poetry, like Emily Dickinson’s “Hope is a thing with feathers,” “The children of the poor” by Gwendolyn Brooks, Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman, and so many more who have created ideas that resonate to this day.

These stories create maps of to guide us towards individual and collective success. None of them promise outcomes. We use these stories to help us frame decisions; each of us depends on stories to give us guidance as the world constantly changes around us.

Some of the stories tell us how to relate to people who we know and love. Some of them tell stories that help us understand members of our communities that we live in.

And some, like the Constitution, give us the structure of how we can organize and relate to each other fairly, so our country can continue to support each and every one of us.

These stories also establish consequences for not following the rules of their actions. Ideas are transformed into rules that we follow so that we can continue to live together, and in some cases, amend to reflect changes in our culture to both protect those who need it and punish those who abuse it.

Recently, we have been moved into another storytelling world in which none of the rules exist because there is no shared world of understanding. There are no consequences for saying anything, whether it’s lies or truth, art or trash, respect, or honor. Repeated lies or truths cannot be clearly identified, since most people cannot figure out the source, or understand the consequence of repeating or believing what is said.

News is now shaped by views, which give people a false sense of being in a community. Our storytelling is no longer composed of communities of shared values, but by massive communities of people who have no way to analyze, support, or protect themselves and others. This comes as a result of not being able to build or implement a shared set of rules that they really understand and can have insight about.

Repeating anything over and over without any fear of consequence is causing astonishing changes to television, culture, and society at large.

Perhaps it is time for collective reading of our treasured documents in public places to both listen and feel what it is like to be part of thoughts and goals that are shared and productive of a healthy community.

Perhaps it is time for each of us to reach out and share great stories that will fill the time with joy.