Stories can be great vehicles to communicate useful perspectives on reality. They can also communicate destructive perspectives. One thing has become clear to me over the years: Our brains are very bad at separating fact from fiction. For example, if you read a lot of superficial, stereotypical romance novels, you may start looking for relationships in real life that don’t exist. Or if you read biographies of saints with dazzling healing powers, you may put hopes in miracles that will never occur. Or if you watch too much futuristic science fiction, you may be disappointed by visits to your doctor where they tell you they have no clue what causes your problems.
Though our brains are often fooled by the fiction we consume, other times we can easily separate fantasy from fiction. The brain seems better able to tell fiction from fantasy when the story is remarkably different from reality. The flip side is that one clever way to change a reader’s/listener’s opinion on an issue is to tell a very ordinary story and only jazz-up a few important details — add only a few miracles or improbable details. If you make the story too remarkable, the brain realizes it is fiction, but if you only sparkle-up a few pieces of the story, the brain may be very forgiving and remarkably indiscriminate.
What is the difference between a myth and a story? As I have written in other posts, words have no real meaning short of the various ways we use them. That said, for me, myth is a type of story. And myths often have only small details changed with the explicit purpose of changing peoples’ views. Other people’s definitions of myth may include ‘archetypes’, ‘the divine’, ‘deep reality’ and more, but for me, ‘myth’ is just a fancy way of saying ‘a campfire story meant to trick you.’ But mind you, I love telling campfire stories to my kids, but they can tell by my tone of voice and the setting that “this is fiction for your entertainment!” But maybe I am being more sly than I imagine. Maybe by painting my stories as fanciful entertainment and telling them repeatedly, I am slipping in the propaganda through the back door of their minds. Alas, manipulation is a core piece of human mental ecology.