I keep mulling over the importance of narrative – literally, story-telling -- in human thought. It's clear to me that stories are powerful vehicles for human thought: far more effective than anything else for transmitting knowledge, retaining information, communicating emotion, inspiring action, and sharing wisdom than any other mode of discourse, bar none. And yet . . . philosophers seem to have a very ambivalent relationship with story-telling.
Philosophers do plenty of story-telling – the good ones, anyway. Augie Turak is an excellent raconteur, and his teacher Richard Rose was as well. As much as they loved to talk about the Truth (with a capital T), it was also clear that they loved a good story almost as much. (Augie often said, only half in jest, "Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.") And if Jesus taught in parables, why shouldn't the rest of us? One of the best lessons I took away from the SKS was how much better stories were at revealing the soul than any abstract argument. I could listen to people talk about religious paradigms and theories for hours, and know almost nothing about them. Then, almost by accident, someone would tell a story, and instantly I knew much more about who they really were, what they really valued, and how their minds worked. Stories had a magic about them . . . and anyone who read the great novelists, poets, and playwrights couldn't help but know that stories could point out the truth.
And yet . . . there is also a powerful distrust of the story, especially when people become aware of its story-ness. Who are the people we distrust the most? Why, the story-tellers: the used-car salesman, the marketer, the huckster. The media, the politicians, the self-appointed prophets. Anyone who crafts a story that is calculated to change our behavior is seen as counterfeit, slick, superficial, false. We even euphemistically refer to lying as "telling someone a story." Especially when it comes to matters of religious, spiritual or philosophic conviction, it is extremely important to us that we are hearing the truth and not "just a story." Many spiritual teachers seem to have a distain for stories as so much mental noise that gets in the way of our perceptions of the truth.
So what are we to do? We long to find the truth, and yet all our minds have to work with are stories. The very thing that lets us taste the truth is also the thing that seems to stand in our way.
If you'll notice, people have much the same ambivalent relationship to statistics: they both revere them and mistrust them. I don't think this analogy is coincidental. Both stories and statistics are powerful ways of communicating ideas and swaying minds. For this very reason, both can be used either to communicate profound truths, or to lie and manipulate, with tremendous effectiveness.
On a less profound level, have you read the "Gooney Bird" books? Wonderful chapter books for kids about your kids' ages, and the whole theme of the books is story-telling. Gooney Bird says repeatedly, "All of my stories are absolutely true."
I love this entry. Makes me think of the way the word "Myth" has come to be seen in our nomencalture as something false when in fact enduring myths may be hold the most truth concerning the human condition.