WHAT'S A LIFE STORY?

People are hungry for stories. It’s part of our very being. Storytelling is a form of history, of immortality too. It goes from one generation to another. —Studs Terkel
Everyone has a life story. It comes from a lifetime of experiences and memories. A life story is an account of what you saw . . . and did, and what others saw and did, and your thoughts and feelings about these things. To tell your life story is to bear witness to history. It’s your personal tale of the people and events that shaped--and continue to shape--your world, and ours. After all, our lives are connected.

Telling your life story is more than an individual act of bearing witness; it is more than just a personal narrative. A life story also represent the social world. It tells us about the communities in which we live, our shared values and beliefs, and it tells us something about our common understanding of social, political, and economic things. For example, a WWII veteran’s life story is always more than a catalog of events; it tells us a lot about the society and culture in which that person lived, about good and evil, and about one of humanity’s greatest—and worst—moments.
And the same holds true for the life stories of everyday teachers, carpenters, politicians, doctors, store clerks, soccer moms, single dads, foster children, police officers, firemen, environmentalists, waiters, bartenders, salesmen, senior citizens, or celebrities. Our life stories are social stories . . . our social voices.
It takes a thousand voices to tell a single story.
—Native American saying

More thoughts on life stories . . .
Ian Kath lives in Australia and he is an expert on life stories. He not only records and shares peoples’ life stories, but he also tells us why life stories are important to all of us. At his website, Create Your Life Story, Ian generously shares with us the many ways in which we can capture, preserve, share, and celebrate life stories in print, in photographs, and with audio and video.
Like us at The Social Voice Project, Ian specializes in audio recordings, but we all agree that no matter how it is recorded and preserved, it is most important for you to tell your life story to someone who will listen. And believe us, future generations will want to know your story.

Listen as Ian talks about the importance of creating your life story . . .

Even more thoughts about stories . . .
  • If you don’t know the trees you may be lost in the forest, but if you don’t know the stories you may be lost in life. —Siberian Elder
  • Life itself is the most wonderful fairytale of all. —Hans Christian Andersen
  • There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories. —Ursula K. LeGuin
  • If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive.
    —Barry Lopez, in Crow and Weasel
  • Those who do not have power over the story that dominates their lives, the power to retell it, rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change, truly are powerless, because they cannot think new thoughts. —Salman Rushdie
  • God made man because he loves stories. —Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlev (as quoted by Steve Sanfield)
  • Australian Aborigines say that the big stories—the stories worth telling and retelling, the ones in which you may find the meaning of your life—are forever stalking the right teller, sniffing and tracking like predators hunting their prey in the bush. —Robert Moss, Dreamgates
  • Stories live in your blood and bones, follow the seasons and light candles on the darkest night-every storyteller knows she or he is also a teacher... —Patti Davis
  • Stories are the creative conversion of life itself into a more powerful, clearer, more meaningful experience. They are the currency of human contact. — Robert McKee
  • Stories are how we learn. The progenitors of the world’s religions understood this, handing down our great myths and legends from generation to generation. —Bill Mooney and David Holt, The Storyteller’s Guide
  • History is nothing but a series of stories, whether it be world history or family history. —Bill Mooney and David Holt, The Storyteller’s Guide
  • All human beings have an innate need to hear and tell stories and to have a story to live by ... religion, whatever else it has done, has provided one of the main ways of meeting this abiding need. —Harvey Cox, The Seduction of the Spirit
  • Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today. —Robert McKee
  • The universe is made of stories, not atoms. —Muriel Rukeyser
  • I will tell you something about stories, (he said) They aren’t just entertainment. Don’t be fooled. They are all we have, you see, All we have to fight off illness and death —Leslie Marmon Silko
  • It’s no coincidence that just at this point in our insight into our mysteriousness as human beings struggling towards compassion, we are also moving into an awakened interest in the language of myth and fairy tale. The language of logical arguments, of proofs, is the language of the limited self we know and can manipulate. But the language of parable and poetry, of storytelling, moves from the imprisoned language of the provable into the freed language of what I must, for lack of another word, continue to call faith.—Madeleine L’Engle
  • Story is far older than the art of science and psychology, and will always be the elder in the equation no matter how much time passes.—Clarissa Pinkola Estes
  • One lesson we can learn from pre-industrial peoples is the power of storytelling. I am struck by how important storytelling is among tribal peoples; it forms the basis of their educational systems. The Celtic peoples, for example, insisted that only the poets could be teachers. Why? I think it is because knowledge that is not passed through the heart is dangerous: it may lack wisdom; it may be a power trip; it may squelch life out of the learners. What if our educational systems were to insist that teachers be poets and storytellers and artists? What transformations would follow?—Mathew Fox
  • Life will go on as long as there is someone to sing, to dance, to tell stories and to listen —Oren Lyons
  • It is your obligation to speak things that have truth, because this is your life’s work. —Judith Black
  • We can tell people abstract rules of thumb which we have derived from prior experiences, but it is very difficult for other people to learn from these. We have difficulty remembering such abstractions, but we can more easily remember a good story. Stories give life to past experience. Stories make the events in memory memorable to others and to ourselves. This is one of the reasons why people like to tell stories. —Roger C. Shank, from Tell Me A Story
  • The language of the culture also reflects the stories of the culture. One word or simple phrasal labels often describe the story adequately enough in what we have termed culturally common stories. To some extent, the stories of a culture are observable by inspecting the vocabulary of that culture. Often entire stories are embodied in one very culture-specific word. The story words unique to a culture reveal cultural differences. —Roger C. Shank, from Tell Me A Story
  • Their story, yours and mine -- it’s what we all carry with us on this trip we take, and we owe it to each other to respect our stories and learn from them. —William Carlos Williams
  • Wherever a story comes from, whether it is a familiar myth or a private memory, the retelling exemplifies the making of a connection from one pattern to another: a potential translation in which narrative becomes parable and the once upon a time comes to stand for some renascent truth. This approach applies to all the incidents of everyday life: the phrase in the newspaper, the endearing or infuriating game of a toddler, the misunderstanding at the office. Our species thinks in metaphors and learns through stories. —Mary Catherine Bateson
  • Many people don’t realize the extent to which stories influence our behavior and even shape our culture. Think about how Bible stories teach the fundamentals of religion and rules of conduct. Think of the fables and parables that molded your values. Think of how stories about your national, cultural or family history have shaped your attitudes about yourself and others. —Lawrence Shapiro, in How to Raise a Child With a High EQ: A Parents’ Guide to Emotional Intelligence
  • Storytelling is relating a tale to one or more listeners through voice and gesture. It is not the same as reading a story aloud or reciting a piece from memory or acting out a drama-though it shares common characteristics with these arts. The storyteller looks into the eyes of the audience and together they compose the tale. The storyteller begins to see and re-create, through voice and gesture, a series of mental images; the audience, from the first moment of listening, squints, stares, smiles, leans forward or falls asleep, letting the teller know whether to slow down, speed up, elaborate, or just finish. Each listener, as well as each teller, actually composes a unique set of story images derived from meanings associated with words, gestures, and sounds. The experience can be profound, exercising the thinking and touching emotions of both teller and listener. —The National Council of Teachers of English in support of storytelling in the academic classroom
  • To be a person is to have a story to tell. —Isak Dinesen
  • We are lonesome animals. We spend all of our life trying to be less lonesome. One of our ancient methods is to tell a story begging the listener to say-and to feel- ‘Yes, that is the way it is, or at least that is the way I feel it.’ You’re not as alone as you thought. —John Steinbeck
  • The answer is always in the entire story, not a piece of it.—Jim Harrison
  • Stories have power. They delight, enchant, touch, teach, recall, inspire, motivate, challenge. They help us understand. They imprint a picture on our minds. Consequently, stories often pack more punch than sermons. Want to make a point or raise an issue? Tell a story. Jesus did it. He called his stories ‘parables’. — Janet Litherland
  • There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you. —Maya Angelou
  • A story is told as much by silence as by speech. —Susan Griffin
  • Stories are the creative conversion of life itself into a more powerful, clearer, more meaningful experience. They are the currency of human contact. —Robert McKee
  • Stories set the inner life into motion, and this is particularly important where the inner life is frightened, wedged, or cornered. Story greases the hoists and pulleys, it causes adrenaline to surge, shows us the way out, down, or up, and for our trouble, cuts for us fine wide doors in previously blank walls, openings that lead to the dreamland, that lead to love and learning, that lead us back to our own real lives as knowing wildish women.—Clarissa Pinkola Estes
  • I come from a long line of tellers: mesemondok, old Hungarian women who tell while sitting on wooden chairs with their plastic pocketbooks on their laps, their knees apart, their skirts touching the ground... and cuentistas, old Latina women who stand, robust of breast, hips wide, and cry out the story ranchera style. Both clans storytell in the plain voice of women who have lived blood and babies, bread and bones. For them, story is a medicine which strengthens and rights the individual and the community.—Clarissa Pinkola Estes
  • Without a story of your own, you haven’t got a life of your own. —Laurens Van der Post