Earlier this week I heard an advertisement from Audible that struck a chord with me. It was part of their “Listen For A Change” campaign which essentially promotes the idea that listening to stories helps up learn to relate to people with different backgrounds, perspectives and nationalities. This is something I touched on in my latest novel, “Webs of Perception”: people developing empathy through storytelling—oral and written. The truth is, the human story is what it is due to the phenomenon of storytelling. It is a critical artform that is in some ways the cornerstone of our humanity.
Storytelling predates the written word. Because of this, determining the age of storytelling is difficult. We know that the earliest evidence for writing dates back to around 3200 BCE, a cuneiform script from Mesopotamia. Going back further, evidence in the form of cave paintings found in the Lascaux caves in the Pyrenees Mountains was likely created as far back as 15,000 BCE. Scientists of course hypothesize that storytelling goes back much further, a communal activity enjoyed by early humans in tight knit tribes. They postulate that storytelling likely originated as simple chants sung during repetitive tasks like grinding grain or sharpening tools. This eventually evolved to creating myths to explain seemingly magical natural phenomenon.
Storytelling was an early form of entertainment, and those who told the stories were revered for their skills. In many cases, storytellers held tribal knowledge and ensured it was passed on to the next generation.
The Written Word
The invention of writing didn’t destroy the art of storytelling, but it did make it easier to pass down. The Epic of Gilgamesh was an epic tale which we likely would never know about if it hadn’t been recorded in Mesopotamia around 2100 BCE. In addition to stories, it allowed for the recording of trade, communication and more. Writing quickly spread throughout the world and became an important skill that helped build civilizations.
Books filled grand libraries, holding vast wealth of knowledge. The book, however, was a very expensive item generally reserved for the wealthy or royal as they were printed by hand. This changed with the invention of the…
The printing press was a truly revolutionary invention. It allowed books and stories to spread rapidly throughout the world. Almost overnight it changed how information was spread. Now, even common folk were able to read stories, learn and be exposed to new ideas. It was a turning point in the history of the world.
Today in our modern world, everyone is telling a story. Each and every one of us has a unique and beautiful one to tell. Our pain, joy, love. No matter where we are in life, we must remember to listen to the stories around us. It will help us connect, to think, to empathize. It will help us to be truly human.
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