A Universe of Stories

 ‘The Universe is made of stories, not atoms’. (Muriel Rukeyser)

‘Every picture tells a story’. So the saying goes. Whether it be Einstein telling a story in order to explain his theory of gravity, an African elder teaching children about the history of their people, Brazilian miners sitting in a bar reflecting on a day’s work, young Chinese men and women expressing their feelings around their love lives, doting British parents teaching their children about the challenges of life ahead, Middle Eastern mystics trying to make us understand the connection between material life and infinity, a German accountant trying to give an accurate feel for the health of a company through the annual accounts, an Indian natural scientist trying to make us understand the significance of the lives of tigers, an American politician trying to express the essence of a national dream, a Japanese physicist trying to explain theories of the origins of the universe, a South African theatre company teaching people about AIDS, or a French archeologist trying to bring the past alive – we are not only surrounded by stories, but we seem imbedded in stories and stories seem imbedded in us; it almost seems impossible for us to make sense of anything, to engage with anything – whether these ‘anythings’ be facts, feelings or mysteries – unless it is through story.

Woman Walking Dog by Bandstand

The ubiquitous nature of story means that we are not just consumers of stories, but we are all actually storytellers, employing various narrative forms depending on context, expressive tools and objectives. The computer game, the poem, the annual accounts, the documentary, the mathematical formula, the fiction film, the archeological exhibition, the sociology lecture, the theatre performance, the novel and the conversation are a few examples of the numerous narrative forms which all have the one quality in common: they are telling us a story. Perhaps this is because nothing really makes sense unless we feel it; our emotions and our feelings shape our engagement with the universe. Facts and figures are meaningless, unless they tell us a story that engages our emotions and feelings. Our arts and sciences are enveloped in stories and mythologies that allow us to engage with even abstract notions in a way that we can understand; they mimic the story of lived experience that we live out every day of our lives. Each one of us is a  protagonist encountering obstacles, turning points, climaxes and sub-pots. We are either involved in the battle for survival of one kind or another, or in a more spiritual experience in which stories engage us in the transcendental aspects of life, or, perhaps, a bit of both. No matter what walk of life you’re in, what field you work in, what language of expression you use, if you want to affect or engage another human being, tell them a good story with whatever tools you have to hand.