Humans create and understand meaning through story

Recently, I attended a critical thinking workshop to do with my job at University of Queensland College teaching Academic English. Some very fascinating elements were revealed in this workshop, some of which I had heard from other places before. Peter Ellerton a Lecturer in Critical Thinking/ Philosophy from the University of Queensland (2015) said that we perceive life and even facts through story, we are storytellers about our lives, it’s how we communicate with each other and it’s how we understand life and how we create and participate in meaning.


When I attended a creative writing course at another university, I was also told by my tutor that we receive meaning through story, and throughout history we can see this is the case. Even down to our need to consume television, movies, books, poetry, comics, cartoons, radio plays and much more, we can watch people living their lives and gain a sense of meaning that we feel we sometimes do not experience in our own lives. We are in the midst of living our lives and some of us can see our story being written, but mostly it is satisfying for us to watch the stories of people played out watching the characters living out even to the end, gives us a sense of meaning and purpose. Story has always embodied meaning. It is a very satisfying experience and we often project our lives into it or relate ourselves to it. In the ancient world this was done through plays, parables, poems, narratives and we tell religious narrative stories in all cultures.

In conversation we tell each other mini stories all the time, with a start, middle and ending, with a climax, the peak of a joke, or a funny incident, an anecdote at a party. But this seminar confirmed that scientifically they know we as humans create and participate in meaning through STORY.

This is why writing therapy is so effective,  we tell our stories from a deep place, with honesty and with NO AUDIENCE initially, and therefore we can be experience freedom and writing your life story down is an extremely rewarding and revealing experience. I know this first hand, in my workshop I ask people to write their life story in one page or so, and I have done this three times. Each time I write about different parts of my life, and it has revealed so many things to me about my life to see it as a whole, was so enlightening and also about how I perceive things in my life. This is why this exercise is so cathartic and effective for us, cause we need to see our life as a story that has been told up until this point but it does not define us, and that we are STILL WRITING even now in the present. It is a beautiful exercise.

This was an exciting and intriguing seminar I was able to attend. The quote below also reflects how we must have humility if we are to learn from each other.

“Those who think they know it all, have no way of finding out, they don’t.” Leo Buscaglia 

I really like Leo Buscaglia (also known as Dr. Love was a Professor professor in the Department of Special Education at the University of Southern California, 1924-1998) here is another quote from him: poignant, beautiful and true.

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”

Well said Leo, so true. I don’t underestimate these seemingly small acts of kindness can sometimes mean someone pulls through something or not, and I have seen the power of these actions. 🙂

Thanks for reading. 😀


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