I Choose Stories for Good
“Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.” I chuckled when I first heard this — and understood the truth it contained. This wisdom, first heard years ago, is both whimsical and helpful in appreciating the gifts of insight and delight offered by a good story.
Stories provide a doorway to new understandings, new vistas on human realities and may even offer broader faith understandings. Jesus of Nazareth knew the value of parable — story laid alongside life’s experience and opening the listener to deeper truths. Stories are durable and can both deepen mystery or provide clues to one of life’s many puzzles.
What of the converse? Can we say, “Never let story get in the way of fact?” As the impeachment hearings in Congress began on November 13th we heard Ukrainian Ambassador William B. Taylor and George Kent, long-time expert on the Ukraine, speak of dueling narratives, competing stories. These career civil servants were troubled by a counter narrative being peddled among certain American leaders based on conspiracy and contrary to the deep expertise of those committed to our national security.
What is a good story, for you, dear reader?
A deep, and I believe, good narrative has guided our nation’s best actions for decades. Based on our constitution and constructive alliances with other nations it encourages the strengthening of human rights, democratic goals around the world. Do we sometimes get it wrong and stand with the tyrant — I fear we do and we have. However, the core narrative we share runs counter to tyranny and oppression. The current “irregular narrative” dismisses our nation’s long-held values and seeks to divide, destroy common understandings and undermine trust relationship.
What irony that on the day impeachment hearings begin, Mr. Trump entertained President Erdogan of Turkey and said he is “a big fan.” A big fan? A fan of a man whose strong-arm tactics destroy democracatic institutions, who jails those who disagree, whose recent aggression in Syria destroyed a delicate peace in the middle east and has set the stage for the reemergence of ISIS? A big fan? What irregular narrative is being promulgated? Why? Who benefits in the larger history being written for our grandchildren?
The idea of “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story,” contains the word “GOOD.” And, what is lacking in an “irregular narrative” is a link to our values and a moral compass. A good story is built on that which is constructive and beneficial to human communities and societies. The good story is one that encourages freedom and seeks to diminish tyranny. Abraham Lincoln used good stories as a critical part of his political legacy. Even though his legacy is imperfect, overall he chose to resist the temptation to divide and destroy those who disagreed. The alternative, the irregular narrative is based on a mountain of lies, of half-truths and a poisoned concoction of bigotry and deceit. Ambassador Taylor identified this story as dangerous to our security.
What makes a story good? Good for you? Good for your neighbor? Good stories are, at root factual, they contain truths, even though some of the “facts” may be elaborated. Good stories seek to help and not harm. Good stories build up and strengthen others.
Falsehoods are being dressed up and widely shared on social media. Memes and tropes are invented that are specifically designed to undercut that which is good. Truth is victimized and a search for the “good” is jeopardized. We are living through a time when false narratives are employed to hold gain and hold power and do harm. The temptation to accept the torrent of lies that come from politicians, tyrants and even television commentators seems too strong to be countered. However, I will live believing truth will prevail. What is “good” may appear to be lost in the tsunami of false information that seems to go unchecked. Still I choose a commitment to the commonweal, the beloved community, a community that includes all people.
Good stories are powerful things — at a fundamental level they reinforce and magnify the truth. In the end, I believe the good in stories will prevail… but this good is fragile and under attack. How do we know the good? Well, there is being attentive to our history and our ongoing struggles with tyranny. There is also the identification of truth-tellers. I believe the narratives shared by patriots and long-time civil servants like Bill Taylor, George Kent, Fiona Hill, and Alexander Vindman will cut through much of the disinformation and deceit.
There is our faith… and with it, there is joy.
Like the license plate I saw on a crimson pickup truck years ago driven by a theology school dean which read “JOY N IT.” Good stories, stories of faith, typically bring new insight, laughter and delight. I choose stories that are good, in large measure because they also lead to joy. The gift of honest exaggeration, of teasing, of hope-filled truths will always make clear the gift of sisters and brothers who can smile, and understand it when they say, “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.”