“So why are we still reading novels? …
Stories organize us culturally and emotionally. They make life meaningful and manageable, but they do even more. Reading stories offers us the opportunity to develop wisdom. Stories stretch our minds and help to grow our moral capacity.
The renowned Methodist theologian Stanley Hauerwas provocatively suggested, “If you are not reading a novel a week, you cannot live a moral life.”
That sounds extreme, but think about it. Our own lives are too small for us to have enough “material” to feed a deep moral decision-making process. Reading novels and stories allows us to gain access to deeply imagined lives other than our own. Experiencing complex moral situations enriches the pool of experience from which we make decisions. Great novels also have the complexity to strengthen our moral muscles.
As brash as we may feel at times, many of us are so fearful of conflict that we craft lives that have little complexity; we avoid troublesome relationships — essentially avoiding life. Good novels have the problematic tension that we need to grow our risk-taking capacity.
Despite being in thrall to information, wisdom comes not from knowing facts but from knowing truths about human nature; it comes from seeing through facts to their underlying patterns. We are shaped by the stories that we read and hear.”
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