It is a bit grey out this September 2020 morning. And I stayed up last night re-reading a book I love: The Call of Stories, by Robert Coles. Coles was an early proponent of the importance of literature for medical students and went on to teach literature in settings where this presumably luxurious enterprise might have seemed, well, a distraction from the importance of learning anatomy or statistics. In business and medical schools, law schools, and other professional settings, Coles’ name may be forgotten, but his impact, as a relatively early reminder that we ARE our stories, that physicians help us to tell our stories, continues. A physician, Coles treated people not just symptoms in part (in his own self-reflection) because of literature. A teacher as well, he learned and taught by listening to his students’ stories.
Today, as we face the first presidential debate (by the time you read this the first will be in the past), I am reminded, too, of the power of persuasive speech, persistent questioning, and the many ways we must bring our critical powers to decision making—whether voting (please do), choosing courses, or grocery shopping. Perhaps, like Coles, we do so more effectively when we also reflect on how these are understood through the power of narrative, including those we tell about ourselves and others, framing our lives, our ethical dilemmas, and our actions.
Coles reminds us that presidential debates, daily tasks, facts, emotion, books read, and voices heard are what we weave together to make a life and a community. We each make our tomorrows in part by pragmatic, data-driven, and evidentiary decision making. (That is why we wear our masks and socially distance, for example.) Coles reminds us that situating our lives in story—our own and those of others—matters too.
At Salem, our story is one that weaves together our nearly 250 years with those of today and tomorrow. Ours is a story woven of many stories and masses of data-driven decision making. Just as by voting, we (those of us who can) move the story of our nation forward, so too in our actions today we build the community, the future, that is Salem.
What will you do, today, to build tomorrow?