When you meet me and learn I'm a fiction writer, don't stare as if I'm a child who never grew up. As if grown man + love of stories = something bizarre. As if I should put aside childish ways and embrace something — anything — which truly matters in the world.
Yes, people occasionally act like this when they learn I'm a fiction writer. It's super creepy. I imagine all authors experience this stare from time to time.
Thankfully, most people don't act this way. Perhaps they buy into the myth that every author earns millions each year (yeah, right). Or maybe they can't imagine life without the stories humans use to comprehend and process both the world around us and our own inner selves.
Because that's the power of stories. Stories are not merely our fictions but also our realities and beliefs and sciences and everything else we tell ourselves in our attempt to understand life. Without stories, humans couldn't make sense of much in this world.
For an example of this true power of stories, read the following excerpt from Bourree Lam's excellent article "Recruitment, Resumes, Interviews: How the Hiring Process Favors Elites" in The Atlantic. Lam interviewed professor Lauren Rivera about how the gatekeepers at elite law firms and other organizations select new people to join their ranks. The following part of their discussion is revealing:
Lam: You also talk about the ability to frame your story in a way that the interviewer will like, but that often black, Hispanic, and Asian candidates lose out on this measure. Why is that?
Rivera: When it comes to personal stories, the people who end up losing out the most are individuals from less privileged socio-economic backgrounds regardless of race. Why this happens is because interviewers prioritize a particular plot line in which the interviewee describes him or herself as a protagonist single-handedly navigating a jungle where they have a goal in mind and they relentlessly pursue this personal passion and they do so through a series of concerted, and preferably linear steps in an upward trajectory, to beat all odds and achieve this personal-oriented goal.
The reason why the individuals from lower socio-economic backgrounds lose out on this is firstly the ability to pursue a personal passion, say you want to be a chef at Le Cordon Bleu, that ability to do so unfettered by structural constraints is a very privileged way of being in the world. But also knowing to tell your story in that respect is not knowledge that everyone has. So knowing to disclose deeply personal information about yourself—the best stories are not necessarily why you want to be a banker at Goldman Sachs, but how you reached the summit of Mount Everest—knowing that's what interviewers value creates a disadvantage for individuals who don't have those types of stories, or don't know how to tell them.
What struck me above are the words "interviewers prioritize a particular plot line." This is extremely troubling because everyone in the world has their own story, but not everyone is taught to tell that story in a certain proscribed manner. As Rivera says, in this case telling your story in the wrong manner results in people not being considered for elite positions where they might have excelled.
But this prioritization of certain plot lines not only discriminates against individuals, it also hurts these organizations.
These elite firms believe they are selecting the best candidates available, people who are the very future of their organizations. But the people they're actually hiring are merely copies of the same people they've previously hired. That's like an author writing the same story year after year. In the short term this might be a safe bet because people find comfort in familiar stories. One day, though, that author will find people have tired of their same-old stories. People have moved on to newer and better stories, a type of story the author is no longer able to write.
Organizations which hire people based on the same old plot-lines they always hire by will eventually find they're unprepared for a world where life's plots have grown increasingly diverse and unique.
Stories have amazing powers, and like anything with power people can use them for good or bad. How these elite organizations utilize stories to restrict who they hire is definitely a bad use of stories.
When everyone tells the same type of story, you lose so much of the depth and experience which comes from having different stories spoken in different voices.