This spring I have been attending a rather large number of lectures, reading, and classes given by some diverse and entertaining storytellers and poets. It wasn't intentional on my part. Some seasons I hang around art galleries and artists. This seemed an unusually high concentration of poets and storytellers--even for me. Some came in a spiritual bent, from church or meditative groups. Others I saw through schools or the Lancaster Literary Guild. Add into that the fact that I travelled abroad this spring and heard many stories that have been passed down for hundreds of years told through tour guides. These experiences have made for a rich stew in my mind.
I have started to contemplate the importance of story in our lives, what it gives us, what our minds do with it. As a culture, so much of our story life comes through television and the movies. A former soap opera junkie (serious addiction--years of my life, gone), I am not immune to the television. I have to be careful with my time in front of it, and its competitor the computer. I wonder what all of this media is doing to my brain, the brains of my kids. Searching around the Internet, I found some articles on TV and brain development. What I found was the left-side of the brain which houses our language centers is under-stimulated. Combine that with the attention deficit problems that television causes, and we have children who are not reading or reading below grade level. We are losing our power of language, not just in reading, but in the way we orally communicate with one another. A child who is used to visual flashes and constant change of "scenery" is not going to be able to listen and absorb the nuances of language in a story. Kids also have difficulty making pictures in their mind for the stories they are told. The inability to create our own images is a poverty of imagination. Time spent in front of a television is a poverty of play. And that equals a deficit of creativity among our youth.
So what happens to a society that loses imagination and the nuances of verbal communication? I am talking about the loss of metaphor, simile, parable, and allegory. We become literal. We become fundamentalists. (So many of the world's religions hail from story-telling cultures that it is a little hard for me to figure out religious fundamentalists. What do these people do when they encounter parable? But that is another story.) The point is, that without creativity, imagination, and nuanced language, we get rid of the gray shades and need everything spelled out for us in black and white. We become a group of people who can follow only simple straight-forward directions but cannot create new directions and forward thinking.
Our society isn't going to get rid of television. We've just now started carrying them in our pockets. But we can supplement our TV habits and make our left-brain language centers happy. This is especially important for children. Make summer reading a priority. Take them to story hour at the library. Borrow some audio books--for yourself and any children you know. And here is a good one--I challenge you to read one new poem, something you have never read before and figure out what the poet is trying to say. It is better for your brain than Sodoku.