Stories, both real and imagined, have the capacity to change us. The stories we love show us what we value and remind us of what is important. They delight and entertain us and tell us things we might otherwise never know.
Humans are story-based organisms. Among all the other things 2011 will be, it will certainly be 'The Year of the Story'. The average North American child will watch upwards of four hours of programming a day.
Meanwhile, real life stories of hope, redemption, grit and tragedy will play out all around the world.
One story that continues to repeat itself year after year is the shocking story of human trafficking. Men, women, and children are sold within countries and across borders, duped and forced to work as slaves.
Experts estimate that there are approximately 28 million slaves in the world today. This staggering number equates to more slaves than during the entire trans-Atlantic slave trade, an atrocity abolished over 200 years ago.
One of the most horrific forms of slavery today is child prostitution. About 1.2 million of the world's slaves are young women and children forced into some aspect of the sex trade worldwide each year.
The number of child prostitutes has tripled in the developing world in the last three decades. Many live in inhumane conditions and are kept subservient through psychological and physical violence.
These statistics are difficult to digest, but our disgust doesn't change the reality. How do we come to terms with such overwhelming numbers?
One way is to tell and consume stories, both real and imagined, that remind us of the immeasurable value of human life. It's the first step of many to transform real world stories of injustice and tragedy into stories of redemption and hope.
It's a pretty grand statement, I know, and the way to realize it is, firstly, to be willing to go into the darkness and then to shine the light on the humanity of those trafficked and enslaved.
As we are convinced that people caught up in stories of injustice matter, our inherent capacity to say no to injustice is activated.
It's one reason why I wrote She Has A Name, a play that will soon be shared with audiences in Calgary and Red Deer in February and March 2011.
The play imagines the story of one girl, a 15-year-old, who is forced to work as a prostitute in a Bangkok brothel. A Canadian lawyer poses as a john so he can interview her and build a case against her pimp.
The tragedy of her story highlights that real justice must be secured for real victims around the world. It also suggests that justice can only be won if real people know, care and take informed and decisive action.
The real men and women who do the difficult and sometimes dangerous work to prosecute the perpetrators of such horrific crimes are heroic.
They work in cities like Red Deer, Vancouver, London, Bangkok and beyond because the story of human trafficking is a story that is told every day, everywhere.
And they need all the help they can get. Before we can help them, though, we need a groundswell of will at every level of society. People who don't only want stories that entertain, but who look at the bleak truth and courageously engage it.
As we head into the new year, I think one of the most significant things we could ever do is resolve to do what we can to stop human trafficking.
It may seem a tall tale now, but so are all the greatest stories ever told.
The good news is that there are more than 28 million un-enslaved people to do the daunting but meaningful work to end the horror story of modern slavery.