Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Tell Me a Story

Everything in life is a story. An Historian gathers written accounts (stories) and pieces them together contextually. A Biologist observes organisms and writes the account (the story) of what she saw for others to read and study. A cosmologist thinks about the origins of the Universe contextually and weighing available evidence eventually forms a theory (a story) of its beginnings. An IRS agent sifts through piles of receipts and puts together an account (story) of how the government has been cheated by the person whose receipts he’s analyzed. Every human thought and activity is bound to story. It is how we conceptualize and understand life.
When we don’t understand, it is because what we face is not in context; we don’t know the story. Understanding requires a story to serve as backdrop. Jakob Einstein introduced his young nephew Albert to algebra using a story. He described algebra as

a merry science in which we go hunting for a little animal whose name we don’t know. So we call it X. When we bag the game we give it the right name. (Denis Brian, 1998).

I have always admired people who speak to children this way. My good friend Tiffany answered her little boy’s questions, when he was still quite new to the world, with storied explanations on the fly. She’d level with him, and eye to eye, answer with part truths, part theories and a whiff of fairy-tale. I don’t remember exactly what she told him, but time stood still for but a moment and I wanted to believe what she said and run with the possibilities.
This is why we love a good novel. The best stories are part truth, part possibilities. In the end we want to stay in the land of the possible. Many of us outgrow this realm, but imagine if each child had an uncle or two to introduce her to the deeps of knowledge with a merry little story?

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