Wetter Water and Truer Truths

Of the inventions to have affected human life for the better throughout human history, nothing is a bigger overachiever than soap.

Yes, plain ordinary soap.

It saves lives, has prevented disease, stopped the spread of illness in its tracks, and it makes us smell nice too.

Water alone is not enough to do these miracles. Water has molecules small enough to get everywhere, yes, and it is a grabby particle, yes. These are the qualities that make water wet. But water alone cannot do what soap and water can do together. Soap is made of a long molecule that bonds atomically to water at one end, and carbon at the other end. Add the soap to carbon, rinse, and your carbon problem is gone.

In effect, soap makes water “wetter”.

Like soap and water, stories and truth together can do something far more than truth alone. Who among us has not ignored a word of caution spoken by parents or authority only to learn the same truth later from a story of some kind?

The simple fact is that stories teach. Even the basest and most nondescript of stories -as small as a cartoon panel in the funny papers- can teach us a palatable lesson. While plain words of advice have no power, stories can rush into the gap and convince us of a neglected truth. I have a phrase:

Truths often told are often ignored.”

The more that an authority warns you, don’t we all roll our eyes and shake our heads?

Stories, by their nature, teach because truth is an integral part of a story. The truth needn’t be literal, or even intended, but for a reader to even understand the words and events on a page, the tale must be littered with fact.

The amusing backfire of this is that writers -creators of stories- are always defensive of their profession. They spend no end of time trying to justify it with “a deeper meaning.”

How often do we heard a writer say: “I don’t just tell stories. There’s so much more to it than just that.”

No.

That is the purpose and glory of a writer. That he “just tells stories”. It’s our job, just as the job of any plumber is to fix pipes. But a plumber never tries to justify his profession by declaring that he doesn’t “just fix pipes”. Does your plumber ever interrupt his work to tell you that he’s really creating a better tomorrow for all of our children when it looks like he’s sealing a leak?

All storytelling is distinguishable from reality.

Take a story with characters pulled from history. Let’s say P.T. Barnum for example. The story can tell of the indefeatable human spirit and the drive for success. It could also talk about the freaks in Barnum’s circus, and how they became a symbol of all humanity: short, tall, of different colors and levels of hairiness. If we were to stretch our imaginations far enough, we might imagine that this story could be illustrated with periods of song and dance.

The whole story might be very moving, but I hope that it would not disappoint us to know that the story could have very little historical validity.

Regardless, just as soap makes water wetter, stories can make truths truer. We might ignore the beauties of every man until we see them before us, played out in living color –whether leaping out from a screen or the written page.

Don’t be afraid of just telling a story, because just telling stories has a greater power than we can imagine. We should never be ashamed of the simplicity of our calling.

Besides, we would be terrible at fixing pipes. -BW

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