Tag Archive | Babel

The Language of Storytelling


Human beings–the human race as a whole–has from the beginning of our existence told stories to explain that which we cannot fully fathom, or that which we grow curious about. Out of our language, the language of sheer existence, we tell stories.

Since the dawn of humankind, we have told stories through art on cave walls, rocks, and through telling stories around the only source of real warmth in those days, fire. Storytelling predates writing by many, many years. As a race, we began telling stories through the extension of art, drawings on cave walls, and rock, and through performances in front of others around the dancing flames of a warm, embracing fire that ebbed at the numbing, bitter cold of weather. We told stories to explain why lightning flashed in the sky, and thunder echoed and rolled. Why there were stars in the sky among the darkness of night. Why there were animals roaming around the Earth. Animals that could kill us as prey, or we could kill, eat them, and use their fur to warm our own bodies. Everything had a purpose. Nothing was without some sort of story or explanation for existing.

The point is, these stories we told didn’t destroy our sense of fear; instead, they lessened the hold fear and trepidation had on us.

Take the biblical story of the Tower of Babel. Generations of humans after the Great Flood spoke one language and migrated to the land of Shinar where they would continue to build a city with a tower, the Tower of Babel. A tower “whose top may reach unto heaven” and humanity could make a name and have power over all on the Earth. On each level of the tower, God gave them their own language so they could not communicate with each other to finish the tower. What I’m getting at is that the languages changed. Just because they didn’t finish the Tower of Babel didn’t mean that, that was the end for them. They split up, went their own ways, and later created and built other buildings, other masterpieces like the Great Pyramids, towers, and structures. They did it divided, but through their languages with their own section of people.

Storytelling empowered us. Having explanations–whether those explanations were factual, embellishments, or sheer nonsense–taught us to use our imaginations, not to fear what lingers in the night, and to live with the reality that everything happens for a reason. Sure, we have grown as a race since then: buildings, technology, intelligence, etc. The one thing here that has remained consistent is storytelling.

We no longer all speak one version of a language, and we don’t live together huddled against one another skin to skin in caves to survive the cold. We live in different continents, speak different languages and dialects, but this one aspect has never left us. The language of storytelling has become a part of our DNA, per-say. We still tell stories. We tell them verbally, in art, culture, beliefs, values, writing, entertainment and in many other forms.

Unlike in the beginning, we have explanations for a majority of the things happening in the world and to us. Yet, the need to tell stories is still there. We have changed how we do most things in life, yet we tell stories in our own styles and forms and it reaches different cultures, people, and parts of the world now through books, internet, word of mouth, etc. We don’t have all the answers to everything yet and we may never be able to. The one thing we will continue to do is tell stories to explain the things we still don’t have viable, concrete explanations for. The things we dream, live, see, hear, feel, taste, touch, and fear are all caught in a web of ever-twisting and changing meanings and realities because we continue to tell their stories in new ways, in our own voices, because we want to solidify them, give them meaning and relevance and essence in our lives. We don’t do this just for ourselves. We do this for future generations too. This is our legacy. Our past was written for us, here and now. What we write, see, and live now and tell through the language of storytelling is the legacy we leave for future generations. What they do will be doing for the next generation.

Humanity leaves its impression on the world in the way we tell stories.