I am currently writing a book that contains a collection of creative non-fiction stories from interviews I conducted with women within Aida refugee camp. I noticed that after each story that they told me, they experienced a sense of relief and it showed to me that by having a voice, a way to explain their own story and to be valued and acknowledged meant the world to them. It got me thinking about how our stories connect us, the properties themselves binding us and forming the basis of love and of moral well-being. It could also, arguably, be fabricated like any fictional story and so is our identity something we shape and create, something constructed by society and imagined?
Our conception of reality is regulated by language that enables us to explain and articulate the dichotomy between our inner feelings and personal responses interacting with the expectations and ideas of our social environment. Ethics is an example of this interaction, but some would argue that our motivations remain inherently selfish and that moral behaviour is willed by self-preservation rather than empathy. It is a very lonely domain where we are essentially separate from the world around us despite being materially and physically connected.
As most of our understanding is conditioned – where we are prompted to respond or react to what we have been taught as right or wrong – how we interpret experience is modeled not precisely on what we feel but rather what we are told to feel, automatically initiating feelings of fear or anxiety or even happiness when we think we are doing what is wrong or right. In psychology, this triptych is explained in the Freudian model of the psyche where the ego – like language – functions as the mediator between our raw, innate drives that conflicts with the superego or our moral conscience as enforced by our environment. As most of our lives is dependent on this determined method of ‘thinking’ which is really just automaton prompts conditioned by our social environment, how to think for ourselves, to really interpret and understand our own feelings and experiences lacks capacity.
When we experience anxiety or depression, they are opinions or decisions and ideas that stem from this real self but because the mind has never been independently used before, one cannot explain or consciously understand why you feel the way that you feel. We are told that one way is the ‘right’ way but our feelings or emotions are speaking something else. How do we develop this capacity to articulate and interpret our own experiences and feelings separate from those unconscious prompts that we have been taught to believe we are supposed to think?
Although our minds and our language develops within that determined landscape and therefore much of what we perceive and accept as reality is socially constructed, our brains have the cognitive qualities – imagination and the ability to calculate and reason – to learn and develop new words, education broadening our ability to construct ideas of the world around us independent of our own small environment. We have a chance to transcend that determinism or our initial conditioning and start using language or words as an independent medium to channel these feelings into reality and communicate it to the external world.
Language and how we speak and communicate requires order, the properties in discourse need to follow rules in order to make sense when one speaks, a pattern of logic that can adequately explain in a one-directional arrow of time an experience or an idea. I feeling space cannot words list down happy. For something to make sense, there are language rules that can piece the fragmented together into a sequential order that can make sense of experience. There needs to be a beginning, middle and an end where narratives have a temporal organisation.
Storytelling is the vehicle that enables words to explain our own personal, fragmented experiences into an order that contextualizes this relationship between us and the world. It cohesively patterns and organises who we are into a directional plot that we then understand not only how to explain what we feel and who we are to the world, but also better understand what we want and desire outside of what is socially constructed.
There are many different ways this can be achieved. We may have images that make little sense and therefore drawing it can enable someone to tell a story of why that image is there, to use language to explain and make sense of it. Fictional tales, poetry, metaphors and parables are all symbolic of storytelling that can articulate subjective thoughts a person may have trouble piecing together.
Have you ever spoken to someone who is not really listening to you or does not really understand you? You feel alone. When you tell your story to someone who listens, you are acknowledged, there is value and a real connection. Sometimes, those connections are false, fake, where we present ourselves and explain our stories to fit into the socially constructed landscape because a person has yet to use their own mind and so remain perpetually blocked from ever attaining the cognitive capacity to articulate their own identity.
Whether the properties of this interaction is fictional or real – there is some validity in solipsism – as though fiction and reality are like two magnets that repel one another where we never really connect with anyone, the practice of storytelling is a way to increase and broaden our vocabulary so that we can better explain this relationship between ourselves and the world around us. This, therefore, enables us to understand others and therefore is the beginning of empathy, or appreciating what is moral and valuable and therefore storytelling is the beginning of love.
Storytelling is a form of connecting and explaining experience into a temporal order, developing and broadening our ability to use our imagination that functions as a medium to connect and understand those around us. As we increase our vocabulary, we are strengthened with the linguistic tools to better interpret our own feelings and experiences. The best way to heal, to feel valued and acknowledged, to have a sense of purpose and connection is only possible through storytelling.