Thursday, October 31, 2019

Storytelling Matters

Happy Halloween!

An economist explains why people need stories:

Why We Still Need English Majors

Nobel Prize winner Robert Shiller, author of NARRATIVE ECONOMICS, reminds us, “Compartmentalization of intellectual life is bad.” And not only because immersion in the classics of world culture and awareness of how past events have shaped the present are good things in themselves. He says, "What people tell each other can have profound implications on markets — and the overall economy." And on every area of public life, we could add. Stefan Ingves, governor of Sweden’s central bank, says an important part of his job is to tell "stories about the future." If a respected authority announces that the economy is growing, that statement in itself can create public confidence and thus possibly become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Belief matters. Just a few of the stories we tell each other about the economy, politics, and other phenomena: Anybody can share the American dream of home ownership. Working hard brings success. This country is doing better in every way because of our administration.The current administration is destroying the country, and only we can save it. The United States has a Manifest Destiny to expand across all of North America (a popular view in the nineteenth century). The American "Founding Fathers" were heroes. They were flawed human beings whose legacy should be reconsidered. Motherhood is sacred. Or the mystique of motherhood is a trap for women. Beauty and goodness go together (in most traditional fairy tales). Virtue will be rewarded.

The stories embodied in popular fiction shape our beliefs about the world. Romances tell us love will conquer adversity. Detective novels tell us justice will prevail (the murderer always gets caught). We often worry about whether the heroes and heroines of novels and films offer positive role models for young audiences. Training in the critical interpretation of narratives can help everyone navigate the complexities of life.

According to the article, there's also an immediate, pragmatic reason "why students (and their parents) might want to think twice about abandoning humanities." Although majoring in a STEM field appears at first sight a sure path to financial security and long-term success, data show that after the first decade or so, people who majored in humanities start to catch up, especially in management positions. By middle age, earnings don't differ by much among the different specialties. Employers recognize that "communication is key" and tend to reward people who excel in it.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

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