Literacy has been a Curse? Thom Hartmann on Storytelling

Storytelling is a powerful thing. Here’s what Thom Hartmann had to say a few years ago on his radio program:

It’s interesting. In preliterate societies, which is the majority of the history of the human race, we didn’t write things down. We told stories. Everything had a story. Every tree had a story. Every rock had a story. Every animal had a story. Every place had a story. Every family had a story. Story was how we transmitted culture and it was how we remembered things.

When I lived in Vermont—I believe it was the University of Vermont, one of the colleges there—I heard of the Abenakis, the Native American tribe there. They have stories of what happened 10,000 years ago, when the mountains of blue ice, the walls of blue ice, receded: what happened, where and when, the order in which it happened, and things like that. A bunch of geologists checked it out, and the memory was accurate. A 10,000 year-old accurate memory.

There are a number of anthropologists over the years who’ve pointed out how literacy has really been a curse in some ways, as much as a blessing, because when we started writing things down, we stopped telling stories. We stopped having these multi-generational stories. We stopped teaching our children. And it’s so important that there be some stories that transcend literacy, that transcend the written down, the “here, it’s in a book.” It’s so important that we teach our children stories.

Thom Hartmann
29 January 2009