Re: Serious Joke,Seriously "Help!"

Arthur L. Baron (abaron@STU.ATHABASCAU.CA)
Thu, 24 Oct 1996 11:43:21 MDT

> Our problem is that, as D. McCloskey
> points out in _The Rhetoric of Economics_ and _If You're So Smart_, we know
> how to teach our students about facts and logic. Our methods for evaluating
> stories, for deciding which stories are better or worse, which metaphors
> are more or less fruitful, are, to put it bluntly, muddled.
> The most effective presenters are, it seems to me, those who have a
> therapist's knack of teasing out what the client wants to do anyway, then
> adding value by framing the decision in a tale which is at once familiar
> and also slightly twisted to freshen it up a bit.

As my cousin the programmer says, in the beginning give them what they want,
after that give them what they need. Gaining trust and talking the same
metaphoric language might to be the keys to the vault.

> The presenter's knack is finding a story just different enough
> to seem original but not so different as to seem too risky. Having seen the
> same sort of process at work in interactions between Daoist healers and
> their clients in Taiwan, I suspect that it's universal, or at least common,
> in all sorts of what we might call "consulting" relationships.
> Is there anyone here who knows of studies, data, or anecdotes that bear on
> these observations and might help to deepen the analysis?
> John McCreery

I don't know if the following is at the heart of your query John, but here

What used to be called speed reading or reading for the information content is
fine for some things, I not quite sure for what though. When I read and sound
out every word written by an author I tend to get a better sense of where the
author is coming from, a greater sense of empathy. The military metaphor for
this is, know thy enemy. The same is true of a quiet mind listening to what the
speaker is saying, not busily preparing a reply before the speaker is
finished. I suspect you well know these communication customs as keys to
understanding your client. Alliteration also helps to sooth the listener and
to pattern the prose.

Story grammer may be that universal you refer to and what the literary
structuralists describe. A typical story will assume the following pattern; in
the beginning the protagonist will face some problem or challenge ... Hansel
and Gretel are thrown out of their homes, Macbeth encounters three witches who
prophesy that he will be king. This problem or challenge is then formed into a
goal - Hansel and Gretel is to return home, Macbeth's is to become king. The
rest of the narrative relates to the protaganist's quest to reach the goal, and
finally some conclusion or resolution of the problem in the beginning. Hence a
beginning a middle and an end.

The second part, the goal, may be broken down into four parts: the protaganist
selects a strategy to fulfill the goal; the strategy always has preconditions
that the protaganist must address; the protaganist applies the strategy; and a
consequence results. This structure can become complicated because there may
be many preconditions attached to the strategy that must be solved, to further
complicate things the preconditions may have preconditions. For example, to
become king Macbeth must commit murder. To achieve this outcome, he must
convince someone to carry out the act of murder. A story can have many layers
of embedded conditions and strategies before a conclusion is achieved.
Contemporary soap opera writers are skilled at exploiting this structure.

There, that's the analysis, now the romantic. Consider Homer's Odyssey and
Illiad, and Joseph Campbell's "A Hero with a Thousand Faces" and more recently
Robert Bly's "Iron John" and "Sibling Society." The thread that ties these and
other works together and gives them appeal is, I think, the want of a public,
of an individual, to know of themselves, to understand their place in the
scheme of things and to answer questions like who am I - what is life?
Hero myths tell the same story; the Hero must go forth and slay the dragon(s) -
those dragons are our own fears and timidity - the Hero returns to a grateful
welcome and the spoils of the labour. Interject a little ironic tragedy and
you have real life. Is this not the same story of Homo sapiens - a biped
hopelessly ouclassed by bigger, stronger, faster creatures, but somehow meets
these challenges with a strategy of intelligence, returns the conquering Hero
to cast dominion over all surveyed.

Is this story grammer innate or recycled script writing?

Is there a deeper understanding of the client and consulting relationships,
perhaps the client wants to be told about themselves, wants to be a Hero
without tragedy.