moral imagination

The Call of Stories

Our stories matter - yours, mine, theirs. Everyone has a story that is wildly complex, beautiful and redemptive. Yet we forget to pay attention to the call of stories because we have reduced ourselves and others to sound bites, profile pages and 120 character expressions. We lack self-awareness to see the story of our own lives; kindness to put ourselves into the stories of those we know; and imagination to consider the stories of those whom we do not know. In last week's prayer, I begged God to equip us with moral imagination to have real discourse. I am referring to Robert Coles' book The Call of Stories: Teaching and the Moral Imagination. Coles is a psychiatrist and Harvard Professor who champions the importance of one another's story. He understands the unique value of each person's narrative, and urges each and every one of us to dive into the narratives of great literature as well as to consider other people's stories as we conduct ourselves in relationships, politics, vocation and faith. I fear that our discourse with one another will suffer empty and superficial pettiness if we are too blinded to discover the sacred value of each other's stories.

Here are some of his words that have encouraged me to build my own moral imagination as I interact with others in the world:

"Their story, yours, mine - it's what we all carry with us on this trip we take, and we owe it to each other to respect our stories and learn from them."

"The story of some of us who become owners of a professional power and a professional vocabulary is the familiar one of moral thoughtlessness. We brandish our authority in a ceaseless effort to reassure ourselves about our importance, and we forget to look at our own warts and blemishes, so busy are we cataloguing those in others."

"Behind the door of every contented, happy man there ought to be someone standing with a little hammer and continually reminding him with a knock that there are unhappy people, that however happy he may be, life will sooner or later show him its claws, and trouble will come to him - illness, poverty, losses, and then no one will see or hear him, just as now he neither sees nor hears others. But there is no man with a hammer. The happy man lives at his ease, faintly fluttered by small daily cares, like an aspen in the wind - and all is well. How do we find that 'hammer' for ourselves?"

"We shrug off, shake off, walk away from, close our eyes to the world of unhappiness. Checkhov notes the commonness of this maneuver: we stifle any inclination our conscience has to direct not only our awareness, but our conduct."

How do you think we can cultivate this moral imagination into our discourse with one another?