[Created by Me]
In an increasingly globalizing, internet-connected society where we all possess the ability to communicate with strangers on the internet whom we’ve never met before, we are growing increasingly distant and less sympathetic towards one another. Furthermore, the reduction of people into a display name like ZapA/D does nothing to humanize those that we converse with over the internet but only further objectifies them and causes us to forget that we are talking with actual human beings with thoughts and feelings. The distraction and instant-gratification that is provided to us in the form of smartphones also prevents us from socializing with other people when we have the opportunity to talk with them face-to-face. Despite the world becoming more connected than ever with the advent of the internet and other technology, people are becoming ever more distant from those immediately around them.
I believe that the catalyst to moving our current society from apathy and solipsism towards sympathy and mutual understanding between all people is stories. Specifically speaking, it is through the experiences and and thoughts that are transferred to people from stories that we are able to establish and develop in people the ability to empathize with others. These acquired experiences that we receive from the stories of others allow us a peek into their lives and also humanizes them by making them more familiar with us through these experiences.
One very interesting example that I had found demonstrating how stories can change people through the aforementioned process was a documentary about an experiment where a phone was intentionally left out in the open for someone to steal. After the phone was stolen, the narrator, who was also the person conducting the experiment, tracked the phone thief whenever the device was connected to the internet, using the phone to send to him text messages, audio recordings, pictures, and even videos. As the documentary progressed and the narrator continued monitoring the thief, the narrator expressed how he was slowly growing more and more sympathetic towards the thief and even going so far as to upgrade the thief’s data plan when the narrator realized that his constant uploading of photos and videos had deprived the thief of his data.
What had transpired throughout the narrator’s monitoring of the thief was that the narrator, being able to literally peek into the thief’s life, started to feel as if he was becoming closer to the thief and felt as if he knew him. The direct result of this firsthand exposure to someone else’s life was that the narrator was able to sympathize with the thief and changed his opinion of the thief from the thief merely being an idiot who took his phone without even wiping its data to thinking that the thief “was a sad and lonely man.” The story of the thief’s life had changed the narrator to recognize the thief was a human being and not just some test subject for his experiment, and this was because of the sheer amount of exposure to thief’s life that caused the narrator to change in this manner.
Another example of stories changing people would be the story of Aunt Lupe and its effect on Esperanza, Lucy, and Rachel in Sandra Cisneros’s House on Mango Street. Even though the children liked Aunt Lupe, they made fun of her and mocked her as a part of a game. After they learned that she had died on the day they were imitating her, they expressed remorse and regretted their actions. Esperanza even states that “most likely [she] will go to hell and most likely [she] deserve[s] to be there. [Her] mother says [she] was born on a bad day and prays for [her]. Lucy and Rachel pray too. For [themselves] and for each other… because of what [they] did to Aunt Lupe.” (HoMS 58).
The story of Aunt Lupe had exposed the children to the suffering that Aunt Lupe went through while they were joking and mocking her. Because the children had liked Aunt Lupe, her coincidental death with their game of mocking her left a deep emotional impact on them because her death led to them believing that they were the cause of the death of someone who they had liked. This resulted in the children feeling remorseful for what they had done instead of being carefree and mocking her like they had done previously.
Continuing on with the topic of children and stories, children are also able to become influenced by stories that they read or hear about. One research has shown how “stories moved even such such young children to consider how they could bring change in their own local community and school” after the children had read stories of the child activist Iqbal Masih. After learning about the poor human rights and lack of food in many countries abroad and being exposed to the cruelty of governments and the terrible conditions that other people were living in, the children were able to sympathize with those people and became motivated to take action help better the lives of those people and of the people in their own community.
Not all stories cause change for the better, however, as they are many that recount bad experiences and invoke a change for the worse in people. One such powerful example of a repulsive story would be the one of Esperanza’s first job where she was forced by an older male to kiss him (HoMS 55). This particular story, or rather experience, for Esperanza was implied to be quite traumatizing and an experience that she never quite got over as implied by the sudden ending of the chapter immediately following the forced kiss. It is never stated directly in the book, but we can extrapolate from what is told to us that Esperanza has probably become less innocent and trustful of other people now, especially older men, after being forcefully kissed by one.
The aforementioned documentary also told a similar story near its end. When the narrator had finally saw the thief in person, the narrator suddenly lost all feelings of familiarity and closeness with the thief. Perhaps he was disillusioned by what he had seen of the actual thief or had realized that his familiarity with the thief was only one-sided. What this particular section of the documentary attempts to demonstrate is that the feelings of sympathy towards any person created by stories could be a complete falsehood that was a result of forcing your ideals of someone upon them or simply just one-sided feelings where only party gives while the other party only receives.
In short, stories that matter change people by presenting them with experiences and information that they would otherwise never have experienced on their own or have yet to experience. Whether these new experiences or information provided by stories prove to be beneficial or injurious to the receiving end of these stories depends only on how the receiver interprets them.