[The following is another post originally up in slightly different form at “Context with Lorna Dueck.”]
“That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”
Well, let’s see.
Chip and Dan Heath, authors of Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (Random House, 2007), caution us that stories that are simple, memorable, emotionally provocative, a little bit surprising, but mostly reinforcing of our settled beliefs will be far more believable to us than those that lack those qualities.
You’ll notice that none of those qualities have anything to do with whether the story is actually true.
Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, in his bestselling survey of Thinking, Fast and Slow (FSG/Macmillan, 2011), likewise warns us that we tend to believe any story that corresponds to what we already think we know. It takes less effort to keep believing what we already believe, and the brain resists extra effort.
“That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.”
As we daily make our way within the Great Information Paradox—we have more information available than ever before, but fewer trusted authorities to help guide us than ever before—we love our story-tellers. For stories combine vividness, specificity, and order. And these elements cut through the noisy complexity to set before us something interesting, something of a manageable scale that we can see and understand, and something that assures us that life will somehow turn out intelligibly.
Again, however, we find that those qualities describe fairy tales of what didn’t happen at least as well as they describe historical accounts that describe what did.