“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

I’ve always believed that. And as a writer, I’ve always believed in the necessity of telling hard stories. We need to know how dark the world can be if we want to have any hope of fixing it.

However, I don’t think that’s the only purpose of stories. And maybe that’s not even their most powerful function.

Yes, storytellers should shed light on the dark things of our world. Yes, storytellers must speak about the terrible things that happened in the past. How else will we get closer to making sure they never happen again?

But the trouble with writing hard stories, maybe even more with reading them, is that stories change the way you think.

I once read a book where a group of people said horrible things about another group of people. Over and over again. And each time, I would tell myself, “That’s horrible. No one should say those things. It’s not true.”

But when you read words, by necessity they go through your brain.

Every page. Every insult. Every lie.

It spins in your mind over and over, until the day when you see a person and the first thought that comes to mind is a lie.

“Ugly.” “Stupid.” “******.”

You know that you, you yourself, the soul who values every other person, would never actually believe such things about someone else. But that doesn’t change the fact that those phrases, the ones everyone has told you again and again you must not say or think, came to mind when you looked at the person next to you.

The brain is infamous for being bad at recognizing the word “not.”

They’re not worthless, you say. They’re not stupid. They’re not whatever slur you’ve trained yourself to shudder at anytime you hear.

But that doesn’t change the fact that your brain has now learned that these phrases exist. In telling you how you must never think, your brain has learned that there are some people who do think this way. Your brain has learned this is an option.

And no matter how many times you say not, it doesn’t stop these phrases from continuing to spin in your mind.

Stories change the way you think.

But you see, it also works the other way around.

I once read a book focused around a person very different from me. She was smart, strong, determined, clever, loving. I read the book about this character, and I enjoyed it as a story and nothing more.

But one day I was thinking about people with the same different trait as the protagonist. I was thinking to myself that they could be smart. Any sort of person can be smart, of course; I knew that. I would have told that immediately to myself or to anyone who asked.

But the thought that came unbidden to mind was “Of course they can be smart. [X character] was smart.”

Stories unconsciously change your mindset. Stories change your mindset about people.

A book can tell you what to think. You can tell yourself what to think. You can believe something consciously all you want, and you can tell yourself what things aren’t true.

But believing something with your whole mind? Believing something with your subconscious? Ingraining something so deeply in your mind that the first unbidden thoughts that come to mind when you think about a person are something true?

That can’t happen by telling yourself what thoughts are wrong and horrible. It comes by showing yourself what thoughts are beautiful and right.

Yes, we as storytellers have a responsibility to tell dark stories.

But we have an equal responsibility to tell beautiful stories.

We are given the power to change someone’s mind, not by telling them what a person is not, but by showing them who that person is.

Storytellers speak the truth.

Storytellers are willing to say, “Yes, this happened.”

And storytellers stand up and say, “This is what is.