I recently attended an event based on seeking truth, knowledge and education.
The speakers were excellent and the counsel sound, but one of the presenters said something that made me want to shoot out of my seat and put him straight. He told us that his brother was the most educated person he knew because he was always reading, insatiably reading. But he only read non-fiction because he was seeking truth.
I squirmed in my chair and clamped down on my tongue. My husband put a calming hand on my shoulder and we got through the moment, but had I been able, I would have told the man we can learn many of the deepest truths from reading fiction. Our brains are wired such that story carries the most potent impact for instilling meaning.
Christ frequently used parables in his teaching, relating deep and eternal truth in story form so that his listeners, regardless of their level of awareness, could derive meaning from the story. When we read fiction, even when we think we are reading for mere entertainment value, we absorb underlying truths about the world and how it works, about human nature, about ourselves. Works of fiction may not be the most effective avenue for learning the nuts and bolts of math and science, but it is the best way to learn why those nuts and bolts matter.
There is truth in story.
Researchers from Carl Jung to Joseph Campbell have studied the human psyche, affirming that as humans, we share an innate sense of Story. In fact, the archetypes of Story are programmed into our DNA, an integral part of each of us. That is why truth in Story resonates. That is why we recognize ourselves and our lives inside the stories we read. It is in reading fiction (and writing it) that we learn more about our world and society, who we are and our place within these structures, our destiny, and what we can contribute.
Why do we love thrillers?
I only have time to listen to a couple of podcasts each week, and one I rarely miss is Story Grid, with Shawn Coyne and Tim Grahl. In their last episode, Shawn makes a case for how thrillers benefit us as a culture and community. Here’s part of what he said:
“The reason we love thrillers is because they reaffirm a value that we, as human beings, really need to have reasserted. That heroes—individuals who make difficult choices and sacrifice for the good of others—are valuable members of society. Thrillers reinforce that meaningful message to everyone. If we can write really dramatic and wonderful thriller stories, maybe it can change people’s attitudes and remind them how important it is that we sometimes put aside our own personal interests for the betterment of others. That’s what we try to teach our children in the stories we tell.”
Ultimate truth…in the pages of a story.
He used Guardians of The Galaxy as an example, citing how Chris Pratt sacrificed himself by grabbing onto the Infinity Stone so that everyone else can be free, and the other guardians save him by jumping in as well so that they absorb the impact together. The hero, willing to give his life, was saved because others cared too. Shawn wrapped up the topic by saying, “…it takes a village of heroes to change the world.”
Reading fiction gives us insights into who we are, where we lie on the hero spectrum, and inspire us to rise to the best that is within us. We can find ultimate truth in the pages of a story.