Monday, November 25, 2013

The moral power of story

In "It Takes a Pirate to Raise a Child" Daniel Coupland shows how story is more important than argument in creating moral imagination:
.... These tales of fantasy and adventure are an inheritance that provides concrete images of goodness and evil — often in vivid blacks and whites — to the still receptive minds of the young. Over time, these images become patterns, and the patterns become habits, and the habits become our way of looking at reality. Children need these sharp distinctions to navigate in a morally confusing world. ....

The best way to begin the cultivation of moral character is to immerse children in great stories where virtues are rendered attractive — not in a sticky-sweet or preachy sort of way, but in a way that captures and feeds their imagination.

Because this cultivation takes both time and patience, we rarely get to see this played out in obvious ways. But sometimes we do. My son likes to tease his two younger sisters. Often this teasing is quite harmless, but sometimes it goes too far. After one such incident, I had to deal with my son and his lack of kindness toward his sisters. Trying to be a good parent, I talked with him about the importance of being kind. After presenting my airtight argument on the Christian virtue of charity, I looked into my son’s eyes and recognized that — although he had heard every word — he wasn’t buying it. I sat there for a moment reviewing my closing remarks in my mind, looking for a misplaced modifier or something else that could have weakened the logic of my case. And then, in a rare moment of inspiration, I looked at him and said, “Son, you’re being an Edmund.”

Almost immediately, his shoulders slouched, and he let out a long breath. He had recognized the name of the youngest Pevensie boy from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. My son didn’t like being told that he was acting like the pesky and traitorous Edmund. ....

The reference to Edmund hit my son in a very deep place in his heart, which only stories can reach. The foundation for that moment — and many others that are still to come — was laid over countless hours and countless pages, a foundation that is still being laid today. ....

.... Do not forget to cultivate and guard your children’s moral imagination. Read them great stories of princesses and pirates, of dragons and dwarfs, of monsters and mermaids. Give them the experiences they need to navigate the moral pitfalls of their lives. Or as Lewis says, “Since it is so likely that they will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage.” [more]