P.S. Did you know the original title Covey had planned to give the book was actually, "Restoring the Character Ethic"?! He ultimately changed the title to focus on habits. In his book, he makes the case that habits are a true reflection of character--the window into our thoughts, beliefs, desires, and understanding. So true! His highly popular book takes a deep dive into the principles that lead to a virtue-based character steeped in habits. If you haven't read this book recently (or at all), pick up a copy or get it on audible. It's extremely insightful into the behavioral sciences.
That being said, the foundation of this blog post is based on the principles Covey discusses years before he publishes his more famous book. In his speech, Covey gives insights and recommendations for developing what he calls an "educated conscience" (Source: https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/stephen-r-covey/educated-conscience/). The speech was given to a primarily religious audience at Brigham Young University, which is a private university of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which Covey was an actively believing and practicing member all his life. I've adapted the titles to reflect a more secular, but completely parallel, perspective of the same principles. I've also added examples and illustrations to help develop and clarify each principle.
I first stumbled onto the process of how to choose good literature when I read "A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the Twenty-First Century" published in 2000 by Oliver DeMille. As a mother who loves education and a teacher of high school students, I wanted to increase my ability to both discern and discuss literature that would bring understanding and enlightenment to my home and classroom. DeMille's book was unexpectedly helpful in leading me to learn a qualifying system of book selection that he had learned from a professor named Dr. Daniel Taylor. (See?! We all inspire and teach each other with rippling effects we can neither see nor predict!) DeMille found this system outlined by Dr. Daniel Taylor in Taylor's book, "The Healing Power of Stories," published in 1996. According to Dr. Taylor, there are four classifications of stories: Whole, Bent, Broken, and Healing. In an article written by Kim McCloskey on May 16, 2018 at the Timpanogas Storytelling Festival website, timpfest.org, McCloskey summarizes Dr. Taylor's four categories perfectly and succinctly:
Have you experienced any or all of these four types of literature? How do they affect you? What types do you lean toward, and why? I love Healing stories but I also find Broken stories particularly fascinating. I believe that 'the nightmare' or 'an opposite' can reveal as much about truth as the prime or ideal. Broken stories have the tendency to shake the reader out of sleepy apathy or genuine ignorance.Whole stories portray good as good, evil as evil, and good wins. Most of the classics are in this category and most storytellers spend their time with these types of stories.Bent stories portray evil as good, good as evil, and evil wins. Examples include many horror stories, pornography, and even Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Bent stories can trap us and make us feel hopeless about the world in general.Broken stories portray good as good, and evil as evil, but evil wins. Something is broken, not right, and needs to be fixed. Examples include Lord of the Flies and 1984. These stories, while not uplifting, have the potential to motivate us to heal something broken in the real world.Healing stories portray good as good, bad as bad and can be either whole or broken stories. In a healing story the listener is profoundly moved, changed, or healed by the experience of hearing or reading the story. The answer to the problem is offered within the story itself, often in the ending.(Source: https://timpfest.org/stories-whole-broken-bent-or-healing/)
Interestingly, Broken stories gained immense popularity after WWI: One of Ours by Will Cather (1922), The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925), A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway (1929), Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932); after the Great Depression, like Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939); a response to prejudice like Black Boy by Richard Wright (1945); and on into the post-WWII era like the short stories in A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O'Connor (1955), and Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (1957), just to name a few. There is still a concerted push by authors to explore why bad--or rather, unjust--things happen and to show the spiritual, emotional, physical, and/or mental damage that follows in its wake. Additionally, Broken stories, that don’t give all the answers to the challenge at hand, often allow the reader to engage their own empathy and energize creativity in the problem-solving process. But there is also a danger inherent in those same Broken stories: if the reader throws up their hands, relinquishes accountability, or becomes cynical in the process, a Broken story can further damage the social fabric already shown to be ragged.
Some authors have made the case more directly for Healing stories. C.S. Lewis (1898-1963), in particular, wanted fiction literature to be more healing in nature: to inspire and uplift him. His poem "An Expostulation" expresses this wish:
An ExpostulationAgainst too many writers of science fiction
Why did you lure us on like this,Light-year on light-year, through the abyss,Building (as though we cared for size!)Empires that cover galaxiesIf at the journey's end we findThe same old stuff we left behind,Well-worn Tellurian stories ofCrooks, spies, conspirators, or love,Whose setting might as well have beenThe Bronx, Montmartre, or Bedinal Green?
An "Expostulation" is: "an expression of protest, not a rant exactly, but often lengthy; an exclamation of protest, opposition, or criticism" (Source: https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/expostulation) Lewis describes the power of good literature as a "finger-tip" which stirs "Strangeness" meaning the search for the undiscovered, "Beauty" in all its varieties both aesthetic (physical) and esoteric (spiritual), and "Wonder" which can be understood to mean divine curiosity or awe.Why should I leave this green-floored cell,Roofed with blue air, in which we dwell,Unless, outside its guarded gates,Long, long desired, the Unearthly waitsStrangeness that moves us more than fear,Beauty that stabs with tingling spear,Or Wonder, laying on one's heartThat finger-tip at which we startAs if some thought too swift and shyFor reason's grasp had just gone by?--Clive Staples Lewis
Charles Dickens is a textbook example of using fictional characters to create Healing stories. While determined to show the seedy underbelly of Industrial England, Dickens was not content to wallow in it. His primary characters heroically struggle against social, moral, and mental corruption to choose the better path. I think the most iconic of any of Dickens' heroes is, of course, Mr. Scrooge of A Christmas Carol, published days before Christmas on December 19, 1843. After a tumultuous and educating night spent with three ghosts, Scrooge vows to change: “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!” (134). Determined to prove to the reader that Scrooge’s turn-around was not temporary, but lasting and deep, Dickens writes, “Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more…” and leaves the reader with the invitation to live as gracious and changed beings: “May that be truly said of us, and all of us!” (147). (Source: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/24022/24022-h/24022-h.htm) Dickens, throughout A Christmas Carol, illustrates the process of personal restoration from greed to generosity, from cruelty to compassion. He leaves no doubt as to how to be healed and how one man’s healing affects his society. This is truly a Healing story.
Healing stories are also found in modern case studies often used in career training associated with business, law, and the social sciences. These studies explore real-life precedents. While there isn't a direct indication of 'good equals good', or 'bad equals bad', case studies are organized and studied for this exact purpose: to understand what went right in cases of success and what went wrong in cases of failure. But for what purpose? What is the value? Case studies enable the reader/observer to first study potential success patterns or missteps experienced by someone else and second to correctly apply the principles to their own situation in order to, hopefully, make better decisions. In addition to studies associated with business, law, and the social sciences, I have found the scriptures to be a rich and abundant resource of case studies both whole, broken, and healing. Love them!
The invitation of this first principle in your Beautiful Living System is to fill your mind with true principles based on books that contain examples of true principles. You can access the past and present in your studies and observations. Learn through your own story: your behavior and actions, including your personal thoughts and experiences. Learn through the stories of others: their experiences, behavior, and actions. Look for roots causes and effects. Search a myriad of reputable sources as your judgment increases. Look for and learn the natural laws that govern all things--the systems of truth--that permeate all aspects of living and which is my life goal to organize and encapsulate in The 7 Pillars of Beautiful Living Systems:
Now, is that too much to ask?! (Wink. Wink.)
There are a total of 4 principles in this series An "Educated Conscience". This post covers the need to search out, study, and learn from the best books. What is one of your favorite books? Would you say it is Whole, Bent, Broken, or Healing? Why is it your favorite? How has it influenced you? I'd love to hear your stories. Simply post in the comment section below.
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Founder and CEO of Beautiful Living Systems