The Importance of Storytelling

BY BON JIN KOO

Storytelling is largely an oral tradition but today storytelling can be found in almost any kind of medium. I love telling stories by word of mouth, and my friends tell me that I am good at telling them. When I ask them why, they give me a variety of answers ranging from the disturbing accuracy to which I imitate the people that are involved in the story to the way I choose the stories I tell. As I mentioned before, storytelling takes many forms: YouTube, movies, theatrical productions, music, Twitter, news aggregate sites, just to name a few from a seemingly infinite list.

Storytellers influence society in subtle ways and somehow influence the way we share stories with each other as well. News organizations shout headlines on the latest ISIS attacks but also recent celebrity divorces. Comedians tell hilarious stories but sometimes at the cost of using explicit language. Even though we could care less about the divorces, we allow such gossip to pervade our conversations. Even though we know such explicit language is unedifying, we laugh at it anyway. This may not be a cause for concern but consider how many people become aware of a social injustice through a story. Whether it is a documentary on human trafficking or an article depicting gender inequality in the workplace, social justice also has many mediums in which we can engage with. If we allow gossip and explicit material to take the focus of our attention, where is the room for the stories that we need to hear?

One simple way we can contribute to social justice is to become storytellers, or at the very least become discerning listeners to distinguish stories that are worthy of our attention. Before we can go up in arms and take some concrete steps toward giving voice to an injustice, like female inequality, we need to care about it. How can we watch Fifty Shades of Gray yet fight for female rights? If someone says they are passionate about fighting hunger in impoverished communities, I would have a hard time believing him if he spends much of his day fighting some virtual enemy in a video game. I am not saying that we should revolve all our activities and thoughts on social justice constantly, but when we take the conscious effort to elevate our conversations, we not only potentially influence the passions of our friends but our own as well.

Take social media for example. If someone posts an article on Facebook or tweets a video clip concerning human trafficking, we can easily condemn that person in our minds, especially if we know that person only posted that to get attention. Why not show grace and initiate a conversation instead? Even if we do not condemn the person, let us challenge ourselves to resist the consumer mindset toward stories, as simply digesting a story makes it no different from any other video or news piece we read. When we allow the words and ideas of a story, great or small, fiction or nonfiction, fuel our actions, we deem that story worthy of our attention.

When I watched the documentary Nefarious: Merchant of Souls, I felt my passion for fighting human sex trafficking soar. I quickly looked for ways I could help, and I found myself in the Berkeley chapter of International Justice Mission (IJM). However, as the months went by, the emotions faded away. Different stories occupied my life. The story of my own success became center stage. I had no time to care about sex trafficking… my grades, my social life, my career opportunities became more important. Besides, what could a student like me do?

If you find your story similar to mine, do not lose hope. As students, a daunting task such as the abolition of human trafficking seems like an impossible goal. If we believe in the voices that claim we cannot do anything as students, we only strengthen the very injustices we try to fight against. Awareness of an injustice is better than none. Discussion is better than going about our day mindlessly consuming stories we forget the next hour. However, even if we do have the resources to tackle such a thing like the abolition of human trafficking, we will discover that something much deeper is at the root of such an injustice. We never seem to solve any social injustices. We make advancements on one, while more problems arise in another. What can stop this endless cycle?

While I urge you to ask yourselves why you should believe in social justice or why you should care about it, in the context of a world that you will eventually die in, why care at all? When we turn our eyes away from the obvious brokenness of our world and choose to remain in our immaturity, a meaningful conversation to discuss, address, and discover possible solutions to social justice remain buried. Here in this journal, Christianity offers itself as a story that can be the solution to social justice. I am not saying Christianity is undisputedly the answer; the combined efforts of non-Christians and Christians alike are nothing to cough at but are they enough? The gospel of Jesus Christ is the story of God descending into the limits of time and space; he became a man to relate with us, love us, and ultimately die for the brokenness we fruitlessly try to fix within ourselves. This story is one that demands our attention.

I still care deeply about human sex trafficking; however, no amount of money I donate or the combined effort of IJM will completely destroy the established evils of this injustice. Yet, millions of other Christians and I will meet this injustice with our donations, overseas volunteer work, and prayers nonetheless because we know the gospel story to be true. A story that stars humanity might result in less human trafficking and some saved lives, but a story that stars Jesus Christ results in the salvation of all people and hope to a heaven with no trafficking at all. Most of us long for this kind of story to unfold in the injustices we face today. But before we can consider Christianity let alone any story at all, our ears must be ready to listen.

Bon Jin enjoys all kinds of ice cream (preferably vanilla) and listening to ambient music that makes most sleepy. 

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