Monday, April 07, 2014

Story Power for Good and for Bad

So, what about using stories to persuade? Good or bad?

The good is that stories allow an idea or concept to be rendered in understandable, everyday, concrete terms that allow the mind to form pictures, follow a linear plot, and gain easier insight into a situation than would be possible with mere pronouncements of wisdom. And, of course, stories are just more interesting than dry philosophy.

The usefulness and impact of stories for teaching or persuasion  is not exactly new. Remember Aesop's Fables, stories told by the Sufi, Chinese stories such as the Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee, and the parables told by Jesus. A well-liked book is Chinese Fairy Tales and Fantasies, translated by Moss Roberts (New York: Pantheon, 1979).

Stories have immediate appeal. For making an impactful presentation of philosophy, they work very well. And that is also the down side. Stories appear to be representing reality as it is or occurred. A character got into difficulty or faced a problem, engaged in a strategy to solve it, and came out a winner (or sometimes, a loser). Stories appeal directly to the emotions. And therein lies the problem. The emotions are much more easily deceived and manipulated than the reason.

This fact, by the way, explains why some of those who write history make sure that their narrative (there's that word again) presents evidence for the truth of their ideology. History is often presented in the form of a series of narratives--stories--and each one can be spun to favor the writer's preferred interpretation.

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