Stories are important not as simple entertainment, but also as education and indoctrination. What we believe happened in the past and the stories we highlight shade our present and influence our future. The best stories not only have a moral, where good triumphs over evil, but engage us intellectually and also emotionally.
This past Tuesday night, President Barack Obama delivered his first State of the Union address for his second term on the floor of the House of Representatives. In attendance were Supreme Court justices, military generals, Cabinet officers, senators, congressmen and guests — but Obama was not talking to the people in the audience as much as he was speaking to the people of our country.
He has to tell his story, to sell his story.
With a Republican-controlled House, the president must appeal to the country as a whole if he is going to accomplish his goals. The best way to move the members of Congress is to move their constituents, the voters who vote them in — and out — of office. The people then press on their representatives regarding the action that they want them to take.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida gave the Republican response to Obama's speech. Written before he knew what Obama was going to say, it takes on themes and policies without being specific.
Both men finished their speeches with the same conclusion: It is our responsibility to write our chapter of our American story.
The importance of stories led Jim Loehr to write "The Power of Story: Rewrite Your Destiny in Business and in Life." "Stories impose meaning on the chaos," he wrote. "They organize and give context to our sensory experiences. ... Facts are meaningless until you create a story around them. ... A story is our creation of a reality; indeed our story matters more than what actually happened."
This focus on words and stories was evident in the closing passages of the speeches by Obama and Rubio.
"We may do different jobs, and wear different uniforms, and hold different views than the person beside us, but as Americans, we all share the same proud title: We are citizens," Obama said.
"It's a word that doesn't just describe our nationality or legal status.