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Sartre on storytelling

“For the most banal experience to become an adventure, you must (and this is enough) begin to recount it.  This is what fools people; a man is always a teller of tales, he lives surrounded by his stories and the stories of others, he sees everything that happens to him through them, and he tried to live his own life as if he were telling a story.”                                                                         Jean Paul Sartre

Although he was primarily known as a philosopher, Sartre wrote a trilogy of novels, Road to Freedom, that I count among my favorite novels. So he knew the power of stories.

Although we are surrounded by television, commercials, stories of all sorts- I still balk at agreeing wholeheartedly with Sartre.  I want to minimize the universality of stories, but one of the other hand, as a member of 12-step programs, I realize that most of the healing power comes from stories the members share.

And much of religion’s appeal is the use of stories that can help members order their lives.  Most religions have dozens of stories that are central to the teachings of the faith– from the Bible, the gospels, lives of the saints and teachers, the Koran, Buddha’s sayings and teachings (and stories) and Hinduism with thousands of holy stories.

Even small children know the power of story as they beg, “Tell me a story.”

May it is the way we order our lives, but I am still am encultured by a society that thinks hard science and business are the purpose of life.  But even scientists rely on stories– their own, teachers and the tales told by biology,  astronomy and anatomy.

To posit that storytelling is essential to life is to bolster writers who struggle to tell the tales they come from deep within them.


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