We've got to do better than this. As we grope our way back toward the idea of living by shared values (a working definition of character), we should consider the wellspring of talk about character—story. We live in stories the way fish live in water, breathing them in and out, buoyed up by them, taking from them our sustenance, but rarely conscious of this element in which we exist.
Life as a story is not simply a metaphor, but the way our experience actually presents itself to us. We are characters making choices over time—and living with the consequences—and that is the essence of story both in literature and in life. The more we are conscious of our role as characters making choices that have consequences, and the more we purposefully choose the stories by which we live, the healthier we will be as individuals and as a society.
Stories, as MacIntyre writes in "After Virtue," teach us how to live:
I can only answer the question "What am I to do?" if I can answer the prior question, "Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?" We enter human society, that is, with one or more imputed characters—roles into which we have been drafted—and we have to learn what they are. … It is through hearing stories about wicked stepmothers, lost children … youngest sons who receive no inheritance but must make their own way in the world, and eldest sons who waste their inheritance on riotous living … that children learn or mislearn both what a child and what a parent is, what the cast of characters may be in the drama into which they have been born and what the ways of the world are. Deprive children of stories and you leave them unscripted, anxious ...1
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