Today’s Deep Story moment. Why story? Why does it matter so damn much? Sure, there are many studies showing that storytelling skyrockets engagement, facilitates learning in nearly every kind of learner, and generally is the key to deep communication and persuasion. But still, why?
Okay, so bear with me for a moment here. Today’s point goes back to the Age of Enlightenment. See, back then, most educated folks thought that philosophy and reason could take care of everything we as humans needed to live in peace and harmony. But along came Keats and the bad-boy Romantics. They said no. Life, humans, emotions, connection…it’s all too MESSY for that to work. And that was where art came in. Poetry, storytelling: it was capable of Negative Capability.
Quite simply, negative capability was a denial of a single objective truth. It was a writer’s ability to be at peace, and even find truths in the messiness of life. Negative capability told truths that weren’t plain, but were understood through metaphor, and mystery. It reveled in story’s ability to put the reader in the body and mind of another and to reveal truths through empathy and innate human understanding.
This, I believe, is the magic of story. Because it isn’t just the writers who display this negative capability. It’s readers too. There was a study done in 2013 at the New School in NYC. It put a large test group into different sub-groupings. Some they told not to read. Some to read non-fiction. Some to read genre fiction. Etc. Etc. And then they tested people’s empathy ability.
And lo and behold. Most groups tested exactly the same. Except the group reading literary fiction, the kind of fiction that dealt the most with negative capability. This group scored off the charts for empathy. The stories they read literally taught their brain how to connect to others. More than that, it made them thirst for that connection.
Friends, if that’s not the magic of storytelling, I don’t know what is. That is the power of story.