The Stories That Are Never Told

One of the issues that we have to deal with in history of any kind, or any field which depends on the historical record, is the stories that are never told. That this is a problem ought not to surprise us. It is not possible to guarantee that the past will survive into the present where it can be understood and interpreted anew. Examples of this problem of survival are legion. For example, we know of the loss of many works from the ancient world which we have titles listed of of which are quoted in other works but which are otherwise lost to us. Classicists and historians of the ancient world bemoan the destruction of ancient libraries and the changing taste of readers from lengthy ancient works of quality to lesser works of summary which have survived better. Similarly, self-professed scientists have sought to explain the absence of intermediate forms from the fossil record by appealing to the imperfections and difficulties in the survival of a substantial enough portion of the fossil record, a far more dubious argument from silence.

But as the example of the nonexistent missing fossils reminds us, the most poignant loss in history is not the loss of those sources which we know to have existed but which elude us, but the sources that never existed in the first place. It is only the perspectives which are shared with others that can survive in history. When someone is unable or, for whatever reason, unwilling to share what is going on inside of them, their ability to influence the future through the expression of what is inside of them vanishes once they are gone. It is not that the sharing of one’s perspective ensures that this will survive. Far from it. For as many words as I have shared as a writer, for example, or witty stories I have told to others with whom I have shared meals, I cannot ensure that people will be able to remember my words, or that what I have written will survive. Yet they have at least the chance of survival, if someone thinks that they are worth remembering, because they were written down in the first place.

The world is, alas, all too full of stories that have never been told, hearts that have been burdened and been unable or unwilling to unburden what has been felt or thought to others. There has been–often understandably–a feeling that others will be uncharitable and will not understand what has been recorded and will use it against those who speak. This is not an unreasonable fear. But this fear, and the lack of ability that people have in acquiring the ability to communicate their perspectives very ably, and the lack of practice people take both in seeking to better understand themselves and what is around them and also better communicating–neither of which are easy tasks even in the best of circumstances. Be that as it may, the result is that a great many stories have simply never been told and are simply unknown under heaven. And those stories are simply unavailable to us, because we lack the ability to know them, because no one was around for us to tell them to.

It is for this reason, if nothing else, that immense humility is required when dealing with historical accounts. Our ability to understand anything is hindered by our sources. This is a problem we find repeatedly in our contemporary world, where our opinions and beliefs are highly conditioned by those sources we value and respect, and correspondingly which sources we disregard. Those who can lead us to disregard important and vital sources that can shift our perspective can shape our mind and make repentance and growth and insight impossible to attain. Similarly, those who provide us with the sources that allow us to sharpen and improve our insight and understanding are owed the highest of praise and gratitude, for they open the way for us to attain wisdom and to recognize ourselves and our world for what they truly are. And that is a blessing that is impossible to pay for, except by passing such insights along to others as best as we are able.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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