The Power of Story

Oh, the wonderful things Mr. Brown can do!

He can go like a cow.

He can go MOO MOO.

Mr. Brown can do it.

How about YOU?


Those words are forever ingrained in my mind.  When our kids were young, Mr. Brown Can Moo!  Can You? by Dr. Seuss was one of their favorite books.  I would read it to them many mornings and when they were less than comfortable in their car seats, I would start to recite the words and they would start to smile.  The power of story was clear.

We’ve all heard about the importance of reading to our children for their intellect.  But the power of stories goes beyond that. We spend a lot of our days with stories: making up stories when we play; telling ourselves stories as we think about the past and future; sharing stories in discussions with others; reading stories in books, newspapers, magazines and online; watching stories on TV and in movies; and, dreaming stories during the night.  

Stories grab our attention, bring us together, teach us things, increase our capacity for empathy and help us heal.  And telling the stories of our lives affects us both personally and professionally.

As individuals, forming our experiences into stories helps us realize that we have wisdom to share and a voice within.  It helps us remember our values and what matters most in our lives. As Soren Kierkegaard once said, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”  And in understanding, we often find peace and hope which enables us to live our lives more fully now.

Research has found that this process of reviewing and telling stories about our own life experiences can affect both our mental and physical health.  In addition, listening to others stories can help heal us. For example, in one study, people with hypertension were divided into two groups. One group heard other hypertension patients tell their stories of what it was like to live with the disease and a second group learned about other health topics, like dealing with stress.  As a result, the group who heard the stories from their peers had greater success at lowering their blood pressure. Stories in health care engage the patient more than simple instructions do and communicate information in a way that is more likely to be remembered. The best healthcare workers have long recognized the power of story.  

This power is also evident when it comes to coping with and healing from loss.  Storytelling has long been considered a healing art. As a grief companion, I’ve been witness to many individuals walking into a room with a heavy heart and leaving lighter after telling their stories of loss.

And what is true in our personal lives, is true for our professional lives as well.  Storytelling is an important way to transfer information. Some organizations understand this importance and have given their leaders roles as corporate storytellers.  After all, branding is really about telling an organization’s unique story. To tell this story, organizations need to think about why they do what they do and how that affects their customers and clients. Once they have their story, they must share it inside and out to form relationships.  

On a small scale, one company that did just that is Fortified Bicycle, a manufacturer of theft-resistant bicycle lights.  Fortified was looking for financing on a crowdfunding website and knew they needed a story that captured the attention of possible investors.  After much thought, the founders remembered that a friend’s bike light had been stolen and as he was riding home without his light that night he was hit by a car.  When they shared this story, presales came rolling in. People connected to the power of their story.

On a larger scale, TOMS® attracts business partly because of its story of “fashion and compassion.”  After its founder, Blake Mycoskie, visited children without shoes in an Argentinean village, he created a company that would give one pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair sold – and TOMS® thriving business was born.  TOMS® then incorporated the same One for One® business model for eyewear. TOMS® told its story and now its consumers continue passing that story on to others. 

Stories are powerful and are part of what is left even when we’re gone from this earth – a very important part.  According to a 2012 Allianz Life Insurance Company survey, baby boomers and their parents agree that family stories are the most important part of their legacy, even more important than financial inheritance and possessions.  And research out of Emory University found that children who hear these family stories have higher levels of self-esteem, lower levels of anxiety, fewer behavioral problems, better family functioning and an internal locus of control.

As you can see, telling, writing, sharing and listening to our stories matters throughout our life span.  So what is your story? Take some time to consider it, write it and share it. Pay attention to these words of wisdom from British writer, Philip Pullman, “After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”

This article originally appeared in Centered Magazine.