I have been teaching a short summer class where the students are asked to find the core of what they believe and share it with the world through several writing pieces. We used the This I Believe essays as a model. If you haven’t seen these or heard them on National Public Radio, check out the website – http://thisibelieve.org/. It is an idea revived from a program in the 1950s where public figures like Eleanor Roosevelt and Jackie Robinson along with cab drivers and secretaries read statements of their beliefs. The program hoped to foster tolerance and understanding. It is a wonderful activity for students. They can submit their essays for possible publication with parental permission.
I thought I would start my blog with one of my core beliefs. I believe in the power of stories.
Our brains are organized to absorb stories. Think about it – every society throughout human history tells stories. Scientists know this. Cognitive scientist Mark Turner wrote, “Most of our experience, our knowledge, and our thinking are organized as stories.” Biologists say that this history of storytelling has predisposed the brain to create meaning from stories. Politicians know this. Ronald Reagan knew the power of the story when he breathed life into the State of the Union address with the ‘hero in the balcony’. He invited an ordinary American with an extraordinary story to sit with the First Lady in the balcony. His first hero – Lenny Skutnik, a 28-year old federal employee who dove into an ice-covered Potomac River to rescue a passenger of the Air Florida jet that had crashed on takeoff from Washington’s National Airport. And we all got it – the nobility of compassion. It created such an opportunity for powerful story telling during the speech, that the Presidents who followed Reagan continued the tradition.
Stories don’t only exist in books and on screens. When people asked Einstein to explain his theory of relativity, he often told a story. He had one about a train, and another about a blind friend, but my favorite is his shortest. Einstein would say, “Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. That’s relativity!” It has all the great traits of a story – character, a little drama; he even worked in some romance, and it is accessible, relatable.
Stories have the unique ability to show us the magic in math, science, art, music, and, most importantly, life.
As a mother, writer, and teacher I try to learn and share as many stories as I can. When one of my students asks me why? Or what is this? Or who is that? Or what does this mean? I use stories to share what I know because they also show the beauty of that knowledge.