The Impeded Stream

I liked this article by Morgan Housel in part because it reminded me that song and story can be deceptive. Of course I should have learned this lesson from the forethought of Odysseus, who chained himself to the mast of his ship and packed his ears with beeswax so as not to be seduced by the song of the sirens as he sailed past them. But I didn’t. Or rather, I learned that lesson and then forgot it a hundred times. Here’s how Housel puts it, reteaching me:

Good storytellers with OK ideas are more persuasive than average people with the right answers. This is obvious because everyone knows how much money and effort goes into marketing. But then it also should be obvious that there are many people with useful information and great ideas who aren’t natural marketers. We ignore these people, which is a shame. There is no chance that the best marketers, the best speakers, and the best writers always have the best ideas. But that’s easy to overlook because good communication is seductive.

The other lesson here is the inverse of Housel’s rule. Don’t give too much credence to good storytellers and marketers just because they communicate cleanly and smoothly; on the flip-side, learn to sit with, and seek guidance from, the inarticulate, the blocked, the un-smooth, the one who is not slick or charming, the gruff, the silent, the introspective, the bruised or bruising, the awkward, the bumpy, the unstudied, the understudy, the voice-cracked, the cracked, the off-putting, the stumbling, the shuffling, the burdened, or the blaspheming. And why? Because, as Wendell Berry once said, “the impeded stream is the one that sings.” You have to widen your definition of singing, that’s all.

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