The story season is upon us. Once again, remotely or in person, we share beloved tales to help fend off the darkness. Ancient stories tell of lamps burning eight days and wise men following a star. Year after year, the Grinch’s heart grows three sizes larger, and Linus suggests the scraggly tree just needs a little love.
Stories grab our attention, engage the emotions, and stick in the memory more efficiently than dispassionate reasoning. They are quicker and easier to process. They prime us for the hormones to hug a child or run from danger. We evolved that way for survival. Our prehistoric ancestors used narrative to learn from each other's experience and pass that learning down through generations.
Not all stories are equal. Some glorify violence, perpetuate false conspiracy theories, or widen the gap between ingroup and outgroup. When such a story comes up over the holiday table, citing data or logic alone won’t get you far. Consider responding to story with story. Your personal anecdote may not change minds either, but it might begin to open a heart. That’s how we are wired.
Image: Sir John Everett Millais, The Boyhood of Raleigh, 1870. National Gallery. Walter Raleigh and his brother listen to an old sailor’s tales of adventure.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.