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  • Writer's pictureSam

Why Stories are a Great Start for Personal Growth

Something that I would put quite high on my list of values is good, compelling storytelling.  I can still watch a film that is just plain fun or action etc, but anything that requires more of a commitment of my time, particularly fiction books, I just can’t stay engaged without a good compelling plot and well-developed characters.



Story telling, in general, is really important to us humans culturally, it is what bonded us around the fires back when we were hunter-gathers.  Some of the most esteemed people back in those days would likely have been storytellers, with people travelling from tribe to tribe to hear all the stories they could, and not much has changed in that respect, people love stories!  Sure we don’t have to travel for them anymore, but that doesn’t change how much people love them.  


The first episode of the final season of Game of Thrones is coming out as I write this and people are going nuts for it, because they love the story, and characters are desperate to see how the story plays out.  Think about how long some people wait in the rain to be the first to get their hands on the next instalment of their favourite book series or the queues at the box office for the about to be released Avengers: End Game. (I lost this blog post for months, and only just found it now, which is why this paragraph is a little out of date.)


People love stories, and I reckon that we always will, but aside from love they have also played an important role in our society: teaching!


Image by Vidmir Raic from Pixabay

The stories we tell our kids are mostly about teaching something, Little Red Riding Hood is all about not going into the woods alone and not trusting strangers (and maybe don’t trust talking wolves either?), Aesop’s fables are classics for this, the lesson from The Boy Who Cried Wolf is of course “Don’t lie about stuff, because no one will take you seriously when you actually do tell the truth!”.  I haven’t been to visit every culture in the world, but I would put money on every culture of humans having their own stories that they tell to teach lessons, and this is because stories are much better at teaching than just telling people what to do.  We all remember the story of The Tortoise and the Hare (those of us who were told the story as kids that is), but we probably don’t remember being told “don’t be lazy and put effort” by the grown-ups in our lives even though they probably told us that a lot!


But stories as lessons aren’t just for kids, we never stop learning and growing as people until the day we die, and let's be honest how many people here learn nothing from their own mistakes, but learn a ton when their friends do exactly the same thing?  Yeah, I thought so.  

I’m not saying that every piece of media you consume should have some big compelling lesson at the end, I like to watch episodes of Family Guy, Friends re-runs and The Simpsons as much as anyone, and even though some of the episodes of those shows may have the odd deep point to make, mostly they’re just for fun.  However, these days I have a real craving for growth, and where do we get growth?  On the edge of our comfort zones.  That means that in order to grow as a person, you need to get uncomfortable. I’m going to say that again because it can’t be stressed enough:


In order to grow as people, we need to get uncomfortable!


Growth doesn’t happen while we’re sat in our nice little comfort zones, where everything is echoing and validating our world view, surrounded by people who look and think the same as us.  Growth comes from having our beliefs and world views challenged, sometimes you come out of that challenge having strengthened your belief with new evidence, but sometimes you come out of it with your belief shattered, “I just don’t know what to believe anymore,” is not a bad place to be, that means that you can reshape your beliefs into new powerful ones that can drive you forward and make you a better person.


Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

There’s this toxic idea out there that it’s the worst thing in the world to be wrong, and this encourages people to continue fighting their corner even when it’s long lost.  This is terrible! Because being wrong is a powerful thing, it opens the way for growth, and if we don’t grow we are either stagnant or dead!  I for one do not want to live in a world where I am right all the time, what would I be learning?


Discomfort is a great teacher, it’s where you learn about yourself.  Now I’m definitely not saying that you should go down that dark alley because it makes you uncomfortable, or even worse that it’s your job to make other people feel uncomfortable so that you can teach them (don’t ever be that prick who thinks that it’s their job to teach other people things through ‘tough love’ or some crap like that). Never put yourself in harms way, but if you’re uncomfortable it means you’re at the very least learning your boundaries so that in the future you’ll know what you need to avoid if you didn’t already know.


So, where does good compelling storytelling come into this?  Well, I find that it’s the safest way to start challenging yourself.  It’s not an easy thing to start or even to continue with, so to anyone who is interested in challenging themselves in this regard I’m not going to suggest going out into public setting like the internet and start spouting your opinions and seeing who argues with you, firstly a lot of people will ignore you, secondly a lot of people will likely be rude to you, thirdly no one wants to admit they were wrong in public!  I don’t think there’s anyone that actually enjoys admitting they were wrong in public.


Instead, I recommend doing some research and finding fiction books, TV shows, movies and video games that are applauded for their deep compelling storylines and depth of characters.  Getting involved in a story and following the journey of a character who goes through hardships and learns about themselves in the process is a very powerful way to impart the learning of similar things to an audience.  Find those pieces of media!  


I actively seek out stories where characters learn hard lessons about themselves, because feeling challenged and witnessing growth (even if it’s that of a fictional character) makes me feel alive!  If I go away having to think about and discuss with a friend what I’ve just read/watched/played/listened to, then I know that was a compelling story that caused me to ask a lot of questions myself.


To finish up, I have a list of some of my favourites that caused me to question or to consider the importance of certain aspects, I’m sure they’ll be some people appalled at my choices and ready to lynch me asking how I could possibly consider these to be compelling stories (You know how some fans can be) but these have really enabled me to think, even if it’s to discuss how X story could have been handled better:


TV Shows:

Bojack Horseman

Orange is the New Black

Game Of Thrones


A Particularly Compelling Scene from BoJack Horseman

Books:

Red Rising Series

The Hunger Games

Eragon Series (The Inheritance Cycle)


A Compelling Quote on the cover of the book Red Rising

Movies:

Ex Machina

Unleashed (Danny The Dog)

Lord of The Rings trilogy (sorry, I have not read the books)


Screen Cap from Ex Machina

Video Games:

Final Fantasy X

Horizon: Zero Dawn

Mass Effect


Scene From Horizon Zero Dawn

Not all of these are up here because they wowed me or I think they’re all amazing, most people who know me personally know that I was not a huge fan of the Game of Thrones series (and no not because I think the books were better), but I’ll get into all that in another post as I will with all of the things the pieces I mentioned above.  For now, I just wanted to write this as an introduction.


What stories out there made you question things?  Even if it was just about how you think it could have been portrayed better.

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