I grew up in a family that didn’t value stories. As a child, I read voraciously and oftentimes caught myself relating what happened in real life to events in my adventure novels, excitedly pointing out the connections to my mother or father. They’d reply tepidly: “Really?” “Huh.” “That’s interesting.”
Even though my parents obviously didn’t care about literature as much as I did, I persisted. In typical elementary fashion, I wrote nonsensical stories, often “borrowing” plot points from the newest sequel of Magic Tree House. I attempted to discuss Harry Potter with my fourth-grade peers, most of whom had only seen the movie. Although I always realized I cared more about stories than most of the people around me, I never knew why I continued to read and write when it seemed like no one was listening.
Storytelling is revered among many, if not most, of the the world’s cultures. Before the written word, it was how a people created and retained their language, history, traditions, and religion. Stories were, and still are, the crux of a culture. We see it everywhere—in books, magazines, television, radio, music, and social networking. We value some stories over others, usually on the basis of how entertaining or well-constructed a story is.
But perhaps the most valuable stories aren’t the ones that sell the most copies or garner the best reviews. Perhaps the stories of our children are the most important stories of them all—like the short stories written by third graders Martin Laguna ("Kill Monster") and Nalleli Balver ("The Yellow Lemon"). Each of these stories reminds us that we are born with a wealth of imagination, untethered by the pressure of constructing a “good” narrative. Instead, we are driven by a simpler impulse: communication. When we tell our stories, we interact with people—people who are different than us and who understand the world in a different way. When we interact with others across racial, gender, belief, or class lines, we become the travelers of the world: true cosmopolitans.
For more fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and artwork on the subject of cosmopolitanism, take a look at Mandala Journal’s current issue, Cosmopolitanism.