According to anthropologists it’s our capacity for language and self-awareness that make us human. However, apes can be taught to communicate through the use of sign “language” and certain bird species can not only mimic their humans but also respond to questions, etc. Albeit with a limited capacity but language communication non-the-less. As to self awareness, elephants have been observed to grieve, burry their dead and go into depression when a mate dies. We really don’t know much about other species “self awareness” because we can’t get into their minds!

As a writer and communicator I am always fascinated by these factoids. I have come to my own conclusion as to what makes us truly “human” and superior in the relm of communication to the other species on this planet: It is our ability to tell stories. To take our past experiences, give them structure and context, then share them either orally or in writing with our fellow human beings. No other species can do that! It is said that without the past, there can be no future and indeed all through history, storytelling has been the means through which cultures transfer not only their histories but also their collective beliefs and knowledge base. And stories are the most fascinating means of communication. Whether the content is true events or fables, or fantasies laced with truth, they have the means to capture and hold attention like no factual, logical history textbook ever could do. Today, even businesses are advised to tell “success stories” because the story structure has more impact and creates a greater connectivity between the reader and the writer.

Then there can also be stories within a story! On Friday February 1 there was the retelling of the sad story of the Columbia’s destruction 10 years ago. What captured my attention and emotion was a program that aired on PBS, Space Shuttle Columbia: Mission of Hope. Within that hour not only the story of Columbia’s last flight was detailed but also how the group of seven astronauts bonded over the years and of its Israeli astronaut, Colonel Ilan Ramon and a sacred object he carried into space. It was that latter story, about the tiny Torah scroll that had been smuggled into a concentration camp by a rabbi almost seven decades ago, used there in a secretive bar mitzvah ceremony, taken out when the camp was liberated, and held by that boy for all those years until he met the Israeli man who was to fly in space. The rabbi had known he would not survive the camp and therefore gave the torah to the boy having him promise to “tell its story” if he remained alive. The torah was safe in his study all those years  until when he was the lead scientist for the mission, Joachim “Yoya” Josephhe decided to risk giving it to the astronaut as a way for its story and the horrors of the Holocaust to be retold.

We all tell stories. We have family stories, community stories, career stories, and they might not be as colorful and emotional as the tiny torah scroll but they help us know where we’ve been and what we need to learn to create our future. It also boils down to the “words” that are used, for in the end it is the language of the story that creates its power. The old verbal story tellers knew this, they knew how to captivate their audience with descriptive and colorful language. That is what kept the listener eager to hear more, or to hear it again, or have an “aha” moment that could be life changing. So what stories are you telling and are you spicing them up with the best words possible?

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