The Power of Story

The Power Of Story

How Story Shapes Our Lives:

Story, has this powerful and often unseen impact on our lives, every single day.  The impact is so significant, and so ever-present, that we don’t even realize that it is with us, there every day to guide our life.

Story has such a vast impact upon our lives, in the sense that it provides the context, the background, and often times the meaning that guides us.

I would go so far as to say that the impact of “story” and “stories” upon our life is equivalent to the impact and importance of water to a fish!

Surely You Are Exaggerating?

I would like to think that I am, however, let me give you some examples of “stories” that run through our minds each and every day.

Just a brief warning before I continue, what follows is not meant to be inflammatory, or meant in disrespect to any group, religion, or system.

  • When we are born, some of us are taken by our parents into the story of religion. Religion is nothing less than the story of how ALL things work and interact in the Universe. It is a VERY powerful story.
  • Some, if not most of us in the West are taken into the story of Capitalism. It is a story that values capital and the pursuit of capital above all else. The story would have us believe, that the best way for the story to end, is for our side to accumulate as much capital as possible as quickly as possible. The story does not allow for at who’s expense the capital is acquired, or at what expense the capital is acquired. Often the losers in this story are those in less developed parts of the world. And sadly, the environment often comes out last in this story as well. The story assumes that there are endless resources and that the environment can be used and polluted to pursue unrestricted gain of capital. This story is largely a falsehood that one tells oneself, thinking that if one can only have enough “capital”, then somehow one can remove themselves from the fray. Players at this story often find that it is not possible to escape the fray. That the fray always seems to find them, and that the environment often has a nasty way of throwing curve balls back at those who believe in this story.
  • Self-sacrifice This is a truly sad story, because the participants in this story tend to believe in scarcity. Basically the notion that there is not enough to go around, and that in order for others to be well and happy, that they must sacrifice themselves or their own happiness.
  • Greed Basically the opposite of the self-sacrificing story. Those involved in this story, also believe that there isn’t enough to go around, but they seek to keep it all for themselves. They do come out and flaunt how much they have been able to acquire for the sake of hoping to trigger envy in those that have less, or who are also buying into the greed story but at a much lower level of success. Also, please see Capitalism.
  • Communism This is the story that we are all equal, and that we should all share equally in the fruits of our labours. This story has been played out several times, particularly in certain Eastern countries in the world. The results so far seem to indicate that this story seems to have some difficulty perpetuating itself, namely due to certain believers in the story believing that they are more “equal” than others, and therefore deserving of a larger piece of the story. This story seems to involve much violence and disruption as portrayed by the believers of the capitalism story. One should note that the capitalism story also contains high levels of violence and disruption, however in the capitalism story, this violent behavior and disruption are often perpetrated by less advantaged groups. The notion being that if only these disadvantaged groups would buy into the capitalism story, then all would be well, and there would be a happy ending.
  • Penal Rehabilitation is the story that is visited upon those unfortunate enough to rebel against either the capitalism or communism story. It seems choosing not to believe in the main story of one’s culture can have some very significant drawbacks, not to mention restrictions on one’s liberties and freedoms. The penal rehabilitation story basically believes that if one were to take a human being and lock them away in a cage like an animal and mistreat them for a major portion of their life, they would then be able to be released back into society, and be well-functioning and well-adjusted members of said society. This unfortunately is a story believed by many who have been lucky enough not to have been subjected to the penal rehabilitation story.
  • Compassion This is a story that is often under-employed. It is the story that would have one be able to experience what it might be like to walk in the shoes of another, without actually having to live that person’s experience, but being able to feel what it is like. The greater application of this story may make other stories obsolete, as through its use one might come to see how others appear to fare less well, while one seems to be thriving at another’s expense. See the following story below on Environmentalism.
  • Environmentalism This is a very interesting story indeed. It has been growing in strength for many centuries, although there are several who believe it is a myth. The environmentalism story would have one believe that the “environment”, the actual area that one lives and breathes in, is worthwhile maintaining and valuing. This story is a bold afront to the capitalism story, which seeks to downplay the environmentalism story, and have it play in a back alley theatre somewhere in a ghetto. Basically, the environmentalism story is a nuisance to the capitalism story.
  • Ecopsychology This is the story that suggests that humans and nature are related. This story would suggest that there is a highly involved interconnection between the human species and the Earth. This is a highly preposterous story to those who would consider their story to be unfurling in a vacuum of their own design. For further details, please see the “free-market” story not listed here, or the “online gamer” story, also not listed here.  Actually, I stand corrected, the “online gamer” story is probably the most seamlessly matched story to its environment. Unfortunately, the online gamer story is often reduced to a very small screen, and is also subject to regular monthly subscription fees, and / or unstable network conditions.
  • Enlightenment This is a story that suggests, that if you go around and try enough things, and then eventually sit under a tree for long enough, good things will and must happen to you. This story would have one believe, that it is generally advantageous that one become rather round and jolly, after one has had said good things happen to one under said tree. Should one experience the full play of the enlightenment story, then it would be advantageous to draft the “Buddhism” story. Please feel free to substitute for the name of this story any prefix, so long as it ends in “ism”. I actually quite like the Buddhism story, although it seems quite maladaptive to hostile Canadian winters. What with all of that sitting under trees for long periods of time and all.
  • I AM This is perhaps the most popular and most played out story globally. The way this story is said to work is, that the teller of the story first begins with the words “I am”, and then anything that comes after these first two words is doggedly adhered to, often till one’s parting from the planet. One of the benefits of this story, is that the teller is often able to use many variations of the “I am” prefix. These variations are often told to others in a way that may help the teller to appear more than what they are, or they may be told to the storyteller themselves to make themselves believe a story that may be in contradiction to reality. E.G. I am a generous person. I am a caring person. I am a hard worker. But it is through the “I am” story that people have the power to change who they are and how they feel about themselves. It is perhaps one of our most powerful stories at our disposal.

And lest one forget, the often difficult, I am a Maple Leafs fan story. It is beyond the scope of this article, but it is important to point out that as there are good stories, there are also many painful ones.

But Seriously….

Some of the above was meant in fun, some of it can help us see the stories that we have involved ourselves in, without perhaps really taking the time to see where these stories lead.

The take home from all of this might be:

  • listen to what we are saying
  • is that really what we believe
  • where is this “story” taking me and the planet?
  • am I stuck in my story?
  • do I even like the story I am telling myself???
  • if you don’t like the story you are telling about yourself, then maybe it’s time to tell another one

Fairy Tales And Their Effect

We love stories!  My intention here is not to bash stories. I love stories!

I have loved hearing stories ever since I was child. I would plead with my father to read stories to me practically every night before bed. Those stories led to books and to movies later on.

The fairy tales that we were told as children, and the stories that we read to our own children have very powerful effects. And for that reason, perhaps we may wish to be careful what stories we share with them. Those stories have power to sway the minds of children and adults alike.

When we were children, the thing to do was to either be a prince, or a princess. If one were a girl, all one had to do was go to a ball and leave a certain special glass slipper somewhere where a prince would find it and then sit and wait patiently until one was swept up to live happily ever after in a castle!

What a story that is! And most of us men wonder why women spend so much time on picking just the right shoes!  Or why we men are so picky about what type of car we drive. The prince came to pick up the princess on a white shiny horse did he not?

My guess is that those stories we first heard as children are still there in the back of our minds somewhere. Make the stories that you tell your children good ones.


Stories, whether we are telling them to one another, or taking the time to listen to them, are often the way we choose to show we care. If we like or love someone, we will take the time to sit with them and listen to their story, even if we may have heard innumerable variations of the same story over and over. You older couples probably know what I am talking about here.

In conclusion, stories are the powerful, yet often unseen fabric that weaves our lives together. Often the only differences in sides, are the stories that we seek to believe in or deny.

Perhaps we need to take a close long look at the stories we believe in. Because I can assure you, once you start looking for them, you will see stories everywhere!

Namaste (taken from the Buddhist story)

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About Ron Lafleur

I am a counsellor in private practice specializing in couples therapy.

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