Once, a long time ago, when I was a little younger, I had a friend ask me what was the use of story? Story, pragmatically speaking, had no proper purpose or function with regards to daily life.
Engineers, mathematicians, politicians, and the like are useful, in that they serve a function. Engineers fix things, teachers and mathematicians teach students and solve problems, politicians govern the way our cities run, bankers make money run, economists analyze how the money goes round.
All of these people seem to serve a function in the cogs and machinations of society, but again, what is the use of story? The use of writers and storytellers, even artists, in this world of mechanical purpose?
There have been many a time where you might hear how someone wanted to be an astronaut or an archaeologist after they saw some movie that changed their lives?
James Cameron, director of Avatar and Terminator, said he was a truck driver until he saw the original Star Wars in 1977 and said that was the movie that inspired him to be a filmaker. He got up and left his old job and got into movies, and the rest is history.
So this got me thinking again about the importance and the function of story in our daily lives. Stories don’t do anything for us in the mechanical sense, but in the sense of emotion, of inspiration, it serves something deeper that can’t be calculated, can’t be quantified.
Stories are spiritual fuel for us. Stories, like fables, fairy tales, serve the basic need in all of us. Humans run on stories as lessons, as parable. Stories are told to us from the moment of birth, the first story after birth is possibly the naming of you, then there is the song your mother sings to sleep to you, song being a musical story, by any stretch.
Soon, the toddler walks on two legs and is told the story of Humpty Dumpty to caution him against being too reckless. Modern kids are perhaps weaned on Disney and Pixar, on talking fish and talking cars and superheroes and princesses.
Stories feed the yearning kids have to be something bigger, something other than what they are. For boys it may be leaping off the sofa pretending its a waterfall, pretending you’re Tarzan, or standing on a table ledge with a blanket cape thinking you’re Batman.
For girls, it may be pretending, yearning to be Elsa, or Ariel or any number of princesses, or heroines. Black Widow, maybe?
So in the end, stories are not useless. Stories inspire, lead us to aspire to something greater. Stories teach us about the world, about what to do, what to be, what not to do. Stories make us cry and feel and love and make us realize and appreciate the things and people we love. Stories remind us of the best of human nature, so perhaps story, apart from engineers, bankers, cops, lawyers…. is the most important function of all.
So here’s to all the writers who strive to tell us a good story. Keep writing. Because we will always need stories.