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The holidays are about stories, and a pandemic shouldn’t take them from us

SHARE The holidays are about stories, and a pandemic shouldn’t take them from us

Illustration by Alex Cochran

One of the great traditions of any holiday season is that of family and friends coming together and — while feasting — delighting in familiar stories. Story truly is the stuff of life.

This year is different, with smaller in-person gatherings and more chats through technology. Thought the delivery mechanism may be different, the uplifting and life-giving stories ought to remain the same.

All can remember a favorite relative who can bring laughter or tears through the telling of a story. Maybe it’s a story any member of the family can quote verbatim. Such memoirs provide a sense of belonging, a feeling of connection and an understanding of shared values and experiences. Nothing brings people together faster than compelling story.

Christopher Flannery, a senior fellow of the Claremont Institute, contributing editor of the Claremont Review of Books and host of “The American Story” podcast at theamericanstorypodcast.org, recently delivered an online address for Hillsdale College, titled, “The mystic chords of memory: Learning from the American Story.”

Flannery began, “There is an infinite variety of smaller American stories that shed light on the moral and political reality of American life — and we keep creating them. These fundamental experiences, known to all human beings but known to us in an American way, create the mystic chords of memory that bind us together as a people and are the necessary beginnings of any human wisdom we might hope to find.” 

There is a inherent yearning to be part of a winning story. Humans naturally want to be part of something a little bigger and little greater than themselves. Sadly, in this hyper-connected digital age, more people are feeling isolated and detached. The fraying of such vital social fabric often begins with the loss of a shared story.

Relying on the power of the uniquely American story, Flannery describes the story-driven connective tissue that binds individuals, families and communities: “These mystic chords stretch not only from battlefields and patriot graves, but from back roads, schoolyards, bar stools, city halls, blues joints, summer afternoons, old neighborhoods, ballparks, and deserted beaches — from wherever you find Americans being and becoming American. A story may be tragic, complicated or hilarious, but if it is a true American story, it will be impossible to read or listen to it attentively without awakening the better angels of our nature.” 

Leadership consultant Robb Holman encourages organizations to embrace and share stories as a way to create culture and reinforce shared commitment. “When we begin to perceive our humanity together,” he says, “we share a deeper and greater connectedness. This is authentic connection — the place where you become an integral part of a much broader story than your own. Trust is fortified through healthy lines of communication.”

Trust in family, neighbors and even strangers, is essential to strong and successful societies.

Encouraging the kind of stories necessary for the country to continue to thrive, Flannery concluded, “The American story, still young, is already the greatest story ever written by human hands and minds. It is a story of freedom the likes of which the world has never seen. It is endlessly interesting and instructive and will continue unfolding in word and deed as long as there are Americans. The stories that I think are most important are those about what it is that makes America beautiful, what it is that makes America good and therefore worthy of love. Only in this light can we see clearly what it is that might make America better and more beautiful.” 

We encourage all, young and old, to connect by whatever means available to share, retell and reinforce the lessons of personal, family and national history. Such stories will bind communities and strengthen the nation.