They say that one of the most important inventions of man was fire. Not so much because it kept us warm and helped us cook our food, but rather because it extended our leisure time together. Fire allowed us to huddle around a safe, warm centerpiece. It became a place to discuss the day, plan for tomorrow and, more importantly, tell stories from our imaginations. Yes, this invention may have inadvertently given way to a whole new world, unlocking culture, religion and tales of wonder.

Long before we had books, we had storytellers. These important figures were charged with carrying the stories of their ancestors on to the next generation. It’s likely these stories began as true—or mostly true—acts of heroism, survival, sacrifice and cautionary tales. This job was taken very seriously and was honored throughout early societies. Their stories were important for carrying on the unique culture of their tribes and for teaching young and old alike the lessons needed to be learned in order to survive.

Early man was smart, but even today, we can see how our perception can lead to the belief in paranormal or mythical things. It’s almost certain our storytellers were also sharing tales of mythic proportions. Massive eagles who could carry a boy away, terrible sea creatures lurking beneath the dark depths, fairies who lived in the pristine meadows—these incredible stories became a unique aspect of human capability. Communication is one thing, but fictional creativity is another. Humans have always been lovers of these tall tales. The cyclopes’ and sirens of the Odyssey share more in common with the folklore of Paul Bunyan and his giant Blue Ox than you might think.

Today, in our modern world, we’re still fascinated with the beauty, wonder and curiosities the human mind creates and tells. Our fictional worlds capture the hearts and minds of children and adults, just as they did in our early history. We don’t bat an eye at a rabbit who wears clothes, a hookah smoking caterpillar or a grey wizard that rides on the back of wise old trees. While society has certainly changed, our propensity for loving a good story has never wavered.

Some of the most memorable stories in existence, while teaching lessons of friendship, betrayal, love, and power, center around fictional characters in a fictional world—past, present or future. Think about some of your favorite stories and you’ll likely think of a fiction. These stories can take us places we’ve never imaged, allow us to see the world through the eyes of people or creatures we’ll never be and stimulate our minds in ways that allow us to be more caring, creative or thoughtful.
Storytelling is one of the most important pieces of human capability. It teaches us empathy, perspective and lessons we’ll carry with us throughout our lives. So, the next time you have a chance to read a good story, or to tell one to your children, take it. You’ll be better of for it!

My friend, Mariana Williams, holds a monthly storytelling contest which I’ve been helping to judge the past seven years. They began as a quarterly contest at the Long Beach Playhouse, but by popular demand are now held on the last Monday of each month…except for during football season! Learn more here! 

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