It is true that storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it, that it brings about consent and reconciliation with things as they really are, and that we may even trust it to contain eventually by implication that last word which we expect from the “day of judgement.”
Hannah Arendt from her essay on Isak Dinesen
Many academics are rather snobby about the value of stories.
But think about what a story does.
Telling a story is a way of revealing the reality of a person – not trying to fully comprehend that – but to try and see it – honestly. Any individual life is too much, too rich and too mysterious, to be captured by any limited perspective. But we can listen, we can learn and we can explore meanings – together.
On the other hand if we discard all that and say that truth must be in the numbers then first we need to create some simplistic account of what matters – one that will give ‘good maths’. We then abandon persuasion and exploration. We try to win – but often it is mere a trickery, an illusion that depends upon ignoring all the other questions you didn’t ask.
The lucky man’s great good fortune
Ruins his children.
This was old wisdom.
Is it true?
Surely the father who breaks heaven’s law
Ruins his children.
The father who denies heaven’s right
Blinds his children.
The father who forgets to be humble
Crushes his children.
Evil begets evil.
But the children of the man who fears heaven,
They tread with care. They care for the good.
They are rewarded.
Rich pride mounts rich pride
And begets insolence.
Pampered insolence begets
And anarchy, where every man
Is the tyrant
Of his own conceit,
Begets all-out-war –
Striking at heaven and earth.
Justice lives in poverty.
She survives. She measures
What is necessary.
She honours what ought to be honoured.
She seeks out clean hearts, clean hands.
She knows what wealth and power
Grind to dust between them. She knows
Goodness and the laws of heaven.
From Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, translated by Ted Hughes.
The chorus sing of justice just before Agamemnon arrives, to be slaughtered. They see how the powerful, always believing themselves to be justified, in fact deny justice. And they see how all of this will unravel. Evil begets evil. Justice survives, even as it is ignored – it cannot be eliminated.