Stories are at the heart of our experience as humans. We love to live vicariously through the tales told by the people we know: our friends, family and even strangers whom we meet at a friendly pub or our favourite café.
There is something unique and special about hearing a story told by someone in a live human voice – we like sitting around a table, or in an armchair, and following the threads of the plots as the teller takes us on a journey, an adventure. We see the world through the storyteller’s eyes. Sometimes, if the teller is really good, we relive the actions through his or her gestures, we bob our heads in sympathy as he ducks to act out a chase scene that he’s telling us, or our eyes follow hers as she looks up to the sky in wonderment at an amazing scene that she’s telling us about that’s happening above our heads, in the distance. We pay close attention as the teller’s eyes widen in surprise as he narrates a part of the story where he’s crossing a street and he’s stunned as he hears the growl of an oncoming vehicle and is mesmerised by the car’s headlights as it advances on him, immobilizing him for a split second, before he snaps out of it and runs like mad to get the safety of the side walk.
We relive the lives of others through their stories. Stories help us relax. Listening to them builds up our powers of empathy, makes us more human. We need to take some time to hear someone out, to let them spin out the threads of their yarn. This means pausing from our daily race, allowing ourselves a reprieve from the frantic busy feelings that sometimes overwhelm us. When we listen to some tell a good story, when we get lost in the details and don’t see time go by, we are excused from the frenzy created by digital media, pop music and newsculture.
The most amazing thing is that listening to someone tell a good story isn’t an escape. Rather, it means participating in the real life of another. It’s real because it is a real person acting out a scene with words and gestures, and voice and facial expression. It means sharing a part of the teller’s imagination and that means sharing a part of that person’s experience, a part of their life.
While consuming media may be a more passive experience, listening to someone tell a good story is part of being human. Maybe that’s why we relax so much when it happens.