The Importance of Storytelling

I think one could easily make an argument that storytelling is an essential part of the human experience – after all, communication is one of those little things that sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom, right? I’ve always imagined that the first story ever told was some kind of Big Fish story. (Or maybe Big Mammoth?) At any rate, my point is that swapping stories is linked directly to our historical accounts. They’re really the same thing, aren’t they? Generally they both have something to be learned – a moral to the story, a positive or negative experience with a takeaway. They’re teaching tools, like the myths of Ancient Greece that tell of the origins of why things are the way they are. We too, today, have origins to speak of that can give perspective.

This week I read an article in The Atlantic discussing the importance of telling stories to your children, and I have to agree that the benefits are astounding. We all know that reading to your children is paramount to building vocabulary and giving them a strong foundation to continue reading books throughout their lives. But what happens when you share about your own experiences through reminiscing, you are really teaching some extraordinary things. Not the least of these is how to critically think and share their own experiences in detail. There’s something else that connects:

“In the preteen years, children whose families collaboratively discuss everyday events and family history more often have higher self-esteem and stronger self-concepts. And adolescents with a stronger knowledge of family history have more robust identities, better coping skills, and lower rates of depression and anxiety. Family storytelling can help a child grow into a teen who feels connected to the important people in her life.”

My niece is learning in pre-school about family, and her mother – my sister – is constantly reinforcing the concept, asking about who she thinks her family is. And she’ll continue to learn about us and who we are as a family, as we continue to show her pictures and link them with stories. I can already sense that on the current trajectory she will have a strong understanding about where she came from.

I think this concept applies just as well to adults as it does to children and adolescences. Again, I was fortunate to have been born into a family of storytellers. My grandparents were always reminding us all about how things used to be back in their day, about how our ancestors came here, what hardships they faced, how they managed when facing adversity, and finding happiness among the simple things. The baton has been handed to my parents and their generation now, too, picking up the story where their parents have left off. Fortunately we’ve become more active in preserving their memories. Recently a relative began a family group on Facebook, the sole purpose of which was to recount our past and give new life to our ancestors that came here before us and shaped us into the people we are here and now. I’m amazed at how quickly even distant relatives have forged a bond with each other and found common ground, sharing photographs and old stories triggered by them. What we’ve found – and what you probably will as well – is that many of these tales seem like the stuff of fiction. All the drama. The comedy. Sometimes even mystery lingers in the stories of your experiences. And, just like the tales we read as children, there’s usually something we can learn from it all.

We at Past to Present take great pride in finding the story in every house and giving it a voice. It’s sometimes quaint, sometimes gritty, often a mixture of things. Your families have similar flavors to them. Our stories, as you see, are worth telling. And certainly worth preserving.

Liana Twente

Past to Present Research, LLC


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