I have been a storyteller for many years, through music, writing, and in my professional career. I have become a perpetual student, studying history, and religions, and investigating virtually every silly thought that pops in my head; ie “Why does the Easter Bunny bring Chicken eggs?” or “How much did Jonathan Dayton really know of Aaron Burrs plan for succession after the Louisiana Purchase?” And other “light” reading.
Growing up some of my fondest memories were at scout camp sitting around a fire and telling stories. This is something our species had done for thousands of years. Our ancestors sat around the hearth telling the stories that were passed on down to them.
We are still hardwired in this way. My rudimentary evidence is simple: we are drawn to the fire. Even today the magic of the hearth has the superpower to draw us in in a way that sometimes we forget to check our phones for longer than 2 minutes. It is incredible.
The stories we pass on are our legacy as a species. Through mentoring, whether children, colleagues, or college students we are passing down knowledge, wisdom, virtues, and morals through storytelling. The lessons and learning go on from generation to generation and in that, I propose that we and our ancestors before us, become immortal.
We have discovered cave paintings going back to 30,000 BC. Our wary ancestors attempt to codify knowledge on what plants were safe and which deadly. We have passed down ancestral wisdom through mythology, fables, fairy tales, and legends.
Through myths we created religions to help us understand the natural world and our place in it. In fables we taught virtues, legends inspired heroism, and through fairy tales we learned to aspire, dream and aspire to great transformations.
Stories that have survived thousands of years, because they help us navigate the human experience.
We’ve all seen the photos of cave drawings, hieroglyphs of the Egyptians, and eventually the development of the Phoenician alphabet.
The trope of trading the devil your soul is derived from The Smith and The Devil in The Epic of Gilgamesh dating back 6,000 years. It is the oldest surviving book.
We were trying to pass along critical information to ensure the survival of our species. What plants were nutritious, which were medicine, which were poisonous, and which gave you a psychedelic trip?
The brain works in a fascinating way. It’s driven by the need to conserve calories so that when the tiger comes we have the energy to climb the tree. Our brains are very good at this. We find the information that is valuable to our survival and store it away, while irrelevant data is simply forgotten or ignored. Perhaps that’s happening to some of you now.
Which is rather difficult to do, because our brains are incredibly lazy little buggers. The human brain is constantly focused on two things: Conserving Calories + Survival.
To survive, the brain is continually categorizing information into buckets of information that is necessary and information that is disposable.
Which made a hell of a lot sense in the paleolithic age, because you needed all of your calories for when you ran into one of these guys…
These things are hard-wired in our DNA. Even today, our eyes see more versions of green than any other color, because they developed to better detect predators in the wilderness.
We are still CONSTANTLY swatting away information that is irrelevant to us. We tune out. It’s why we nod off or focus on our internal monologue rather than paying attention to someone. Perhaps it’s happening to some of you right now.
We are still sharing stories. Still trying to ensure the survival of our species.
About a decade ago I was curious how long it would take to read Wikipedia. If you haven’t already figured it out: I’m somewhat of a nerd. So I wrote a simple program, downloaded Wikipedia, did some public math based upon my words per minute, removing time for sleep, and determined it would be over 130 years. Given the average life expectancy, I realized this was an unachievable task. I then realized that this didn’t include great works of literature.
Since our society has developed to the point past where any of us can know all the things it seemed that we need to be more decisive about where we spend our limited time.
What stories were worth investing time to learn? Then I also considered what stories were worth sharing and which might be time to let go.
Stories are persuasive. They are trying to make us think differently or consider alternative views.
BUT… there are also some stories we need to let go of…
A few years ago I was asked to present on How to Manage Millennials. I started off with a quote “Even as I said it I knew the phrase “To make a living” could have absolutely no meaning to these children of the affluent society.”
I later pointed out to the audience that this quote was not about millennials, because it was from Time Magazine in 1968; meaning that it was about their generation. Then I share another quote:
“They only care about frivolous things. When I was a boy, we were taught to be discrete and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly impatient of restraint.” Hesiod
As a society, we have been doing the “when I was a kid” and “kids today…” since the time Homer was writing The Odyssey.
Maybe it’s time to stop repeating this old trope and move our thinking forward. Young people tend to be more narcissistic but outgrow it by 30. When asked about their goals they mirrored older generations’ responses. Career fulfillment and Family were near the top and being famous was ranked nearly last.
Our differences are not nearly as vast as our commonalities. The truth is that we are all trying to navigate our existence and we would do a much better job if we were all more caring and compassionate.
With a finite amount of time in our lives, how can we be more conscious about what we think about? Everyone in this room knows that too much junk food will lead to an obese body, but have you considered what you’re feeding your brain?
What stories are worth sharing? Which do we need to let go of?
What will you choose to pay attention to?
What once was critical to our survival is now imperative in how we will move our society forward. I wish you way more than luck.