Can stories change lives?

Just listened to a recent podcast of WNYC’s Soundcheck on my commute home today. The topic: what album changed your life? Falling asleep to Nirvana’s Nevermind (possible?) or looking at music in a new way after Sgt. Pepper were typical answers.

Far be it from me to say what affects someone’s life, but I think even the callers on the show would admit, if pressed, that the albums didn’t actually change their lives. Rather, the woman who moved to London and became a punk after listening to Elvis Costello’s This Year’s Love was probably thinking about radically altering her physical location and lifestyle for some time – Elvis just gave her a nudge over the edge. The point: music cannot be life-changing, but it can provide fuel for changes that have been shaped over time.

The same goes for stories I think (and the best albums have elements of storytelling). I don’t think John Steinbeck, or Tom Junod can change anyone’s life. But I do know that “East of Eden” affirmed my belief in the power of choice and “Can You Say … Hero?” pushed me further down a closer relationship to my family and friends.

A story about an unemployed single mother of five isn’t going to convince a National Review pundit that we need a greater social safety net – just as an unemployed mother of five going on to great success won’t convince someone at The Nation to embrace capitalism. But for someone who has already considered a topic, and is experiencing a change in their thinking, stories can push them over the edge.

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