Stories Are the Fabric of Who We Are

Everywhere you look, there’s a story. On TV, its a story of fictional characters, or a story about historical individuals or events. Even on the shows where they fix cars…there’s the story of the car before it made it into the shop, the story of it being rebuilt, and the story of what happens with the car when it leaves the shop. Books are easy, we’ve grown up with stories out of that. People are walking stories as well. What they’ve done since the last time you saw them, what happened in their lives before they met you, and whatever will happen to them after you part at the end of the day. Here at the college, there are plenty of stories as well. How students’ live, what brought them here to the college for these specific studies, and what dreams they have of utilizing those studies to further their careers and (hopefully) better their lives.

I deal in data for a living. I dish out number after number after number. And that data tells a story as well. It can relate how the number of graduates getting degrees is climbing steadily over the past five years. Or how overall enrollment at the college has been dipping over the past few semesters. It can provide a cost-benefit analysis of how money is (or is not) being spent. But the real measure is that each of the data points that show enrollment – the 9,000+ students that are taking classes here at the college – each of those data point represents an individual, unique story on its own. Taken collectively, there is one story to be told. Taken individually, there are 9,000+ individual stories to be told alongside the one collective perspective.

We tell stories to relate experiences, to parse knowledge between one another, to entertain, to inform, and sometimes to justify our actions. A few weeks back, I told the saga of the Screen Door Boar and the Bardic Initiates around the Saturday night campfire. I wanted to entertain everyone at the fire, and I wanted to engage them in the experience of that night. To do that, I utilized descriptive language and even body movements to convey not only my perspective, but also the humor of the moment. Apparently, I did a good enough job that I was complimented several times on the telling of the tale. But that’s just it, the telling of the tale has to happen, so that it may live.

As I noted, I deal in statistics and data. My job is to take a very high-level look at everything and relay to upper management what I can glean from all of that. The individual stories of the students’ is not nearly as important as my ability to explain ups and downs in the pattern of data. Why is enrollment down from a year ago? Because employment is up. Students snap up jobs which take away from their free time to be able to study. To add relevance to that perspective, I would show the employment rate for the county in question over the past few years to demonstrate that a rise in employment would provide a corresponding downward trend in enrollment. For my intended audience of upper management, this would be useful. For an intended audience of prospective students, it could potentially be a faceless way to present data.

Stories also hold meaning that only unlocks for us when we understand the relevance of a moment when held underneath the bright light of a simple turn of a phrase. Take the “Matrix” movies, for example. I have seen these films dozens upon dozens of times. Every single time I watch these movies, I find a new appreciation for a moment in one of the films or a different way of understanding the meaning of a set of dialogue. When we play out aspects of mythological stories against the backdrop of our everyday lives, we can find new meaning and relation to what is being presented. One of my favorite ways of viewing my job is against the backdrop of Theseus winding his way through the maze. When I spend time digging through our cube of data to locate things like student grades in English classes in a particular semester, and correlate that against ACT, SAT, and STAR test scores, I find myself keeping track of how each table in the cube relates to one another. And if I am unlucky, I may find myself arcing a pattern of connectivity between two tables using five tables between those to interlace and correlate the data. Taking the perspective of Theseus winding out the ball of yarn to find his way back out of the maze is my way of strengthening my understanding of why I am writing down the pattern of connected key columns in my query writing.

Not every story we hear, read, and experience has to have a level of hidden meaning behind it. Sometimes, a good story is there to entertain. And sometimes, that story that is just entertaining you at that moment, was providing deep meaning to you previously. Stories can interact and engage you on many different levels. You can find stories in nearly every moment of your life, provided you open your mind to the idea of what makes a story, a story. The real idea is to open yourself up to the idea that every story can not only entertain, but also provide deeper meaning.

So, I continue to step deeper into the embrace of not only hearing and telling the story, but also experiencing it. Maybe, I will see you around a campfire in the future. I sure would enjoy telling a story for you.

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