- Paul Cumbo
The Power of Stories
Storytelling is a foundation of culture. Since ancient times, long before the written word, myths have captured the essence of human experience and offered contextually rational—if often supernatural—explanations for the mysteries of the natural world. Stories are the most vivid and effective mechanisms for the transference of knowledge, tradition, and values. Parables and fables teach us the foundations of our moral codes as children, and these allegorical lessons retain their significance throughout our lives. We retell the stories we’ve heard. And while elements may change, the most enduring stories are timelessly resilient. They convey meaningful, essential messages—wisdom that has proven its endurance through the test of time.
Our stories can divide us—indeed, our mythical structures underpin our tribal divisions while defining the “other” and the dangers of the wilderness. But in far more important ways, stories unite us. The archetypal hero narratives are shared imaginings and expressions of human values, fears, and longings that transcend cultural and geographic divides. Across the continents, despite the expanse of oceans separating them, peoples who had no contact with one another nonetheless crafted myths, stories, and legends with astonishingly similar elements across the centuries. From the universally visible mysteries of the stars overhead and the rumblings of the earth below; to the universal vices of hate, fear, envy, greed, and lust; to the universal virtues of honor, righteousness, integrity, and valor; our various cultures have shared far more in common than we have differed.
It is this acknowledgement of— and appreciation for—the power of the story that fuels my love of reading and writing. We live in our real stories, even as we are writing them. But in the midst of those real-life narratives, so often consumed by the tedium and banality of the everyday, our creative minds offer a miracle of ingenuity. They offer a limitless landscape of possibility, where adventure can play out with the full resolution and texture of the imagination.
In this manner, a story, whether one is reading or writing it, can be an escape. But it doesn't have to be. Sometimes it's exactly the opposite—sometimes a story is a powerful way to embrace and engage the world around us. After all, if there's one thing we've all got, it's a story.