The Importance of the Little “Lies”

I’d like to thank Mrs. Lane, Mrs. Murphy, and the freshman and junior English classes at Clay Center Community High School for the opportunity to speak about story structure and the power of story. It was an absolutely fabulous experience for me, and, hopefully, also a positive experience for the students.

The day reminded the 53-year-old grumpy, old man in me how awesome our young people are. It reminded me to have confidence in the future. It reminded me that these students will be fully capable of cleaning up the mess my generation is leaving them. I challenged them to keep their natural BS meters sharp by reading and thinking and attacking problems. I pleaded with them not to lose this skill as they grow and mature. A well-honed BS meter will be an essential skill as they learn to live with the portal to access all of humanity’s information that they carry in their pocket.

Parents and school administrators, be proud of your students! Their potential shines and I can’t wait to see them mature and grow into the people they dream to be.

Below is an excerpt from HOGFATHER by Terry Pratchett (one of my favorite books and movies) I’d like to share with the students as repayment for being so warmly welcomed into their world for a day.

HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN

The Hogfather nodded at Death, as one craftsman to another, and then at Susan. She wasn’t sure if she was being thanked—it was more of a gesture of recognition, of acknowledgment that something that had needed doing had actually be done. But it felt like thanks.

Then he shook the reins and clicked his teeth and the sleigh slid away.

They watched it go.

“I remember hearing,” said Susan distantly. “That the idea of the Hogfather wearing a red and white outfit was invented quite recently.”

NO. IT WAS REMEMBERED.

Now the Hogfather was a red dot on the other side of the valley.

“Well, that about wraps it up for this dress,” said Susan,. “I’d just like to ask, just out of academic interest…you were sure I was going to survive, were you?”

I WAS QUITE CONFIDENT.

“Oh, good.”

I WILL GIVE YOU A LIFT BACK, said Death, after a while.

“Thank you. Now…tell me…”

WHAT WOULD HAVE HAPPENED IF YOU HADN’T SAVED HIM?

“Yes! The sun would have risen just the same, yes?”

NO.

“Oh, come on. You can’t expect me to believe that. It’s an astronomical fact.”

THE SUN WOULD NOT HAVE RISEN.

She turned on him.

“It’s been a long night, Grandfather! I’m tired and I need a bath. I don’t need silliness!”

THE SUN WOULD NOT HAVE RISEN.

“Really? Then what would have happened, pray?”

A MERE BALL OF FLAMING GAS WOULD HAVE ILLUMINATED THE WORLD.

The walked in silence for a moment.

“Ah,” said Susan dully. “Tickery with words. I would have thought you’d have been more literal-minded than that.”

I AM NOTHING IF NOT LITERAL-MINDED. TRICKERY WITH WORDS IS WHERE HUMANS LIVE.

“All right,” said Susan. “I’m not stupid. You’re saying humans need…fantasies to make life bearable.”

REALLY? AS IF IT WAS SOME KIND OF PINK PILL? NO. HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.

“Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little—”

YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.

“So we can believe the big ones?”

YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.

“They’re not the same at all!”

YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET— Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME…SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.

“Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what’s the point—”

MY POINT EXACTLY.

She tried to assemble her thoughts.

THERE IS A PLACE WHERE THE GALAXIES HAVE BEEN COLLIDING FOR A MILLION YEARS, said Death, apropos of nothing. DON’T TRY TO TELL ME THAT’S RIGHT.

“Yes, but people don’t think about that,” said Susan. “Somewhere there was a bed…”

CORRECT. STARS EXPLODE, WORLDS COLLIDE, THERE’S HARDLY ANYWHERE WHERE HUMANS CAN LIVE WITHOUT BEING FROZEN OR FRIED, AND YET YOU BELIEVE THAT A…BED IS A NORMAL THING. IT IS THE MOST AMAZING TALENT.

“Talent?”

OH, YES. A VERY SPECIAL KIND OF STUPIDITY. YOU THINK THE WHOLE UNIVERSE IS INSIDE YOUR HEADS.

“You make us sound mad,” said Susan. A nice warm bed…

NO. YOU NEED TO BELIEVE IN THINGS THAT AREN’T TRUE. HOW ELSE CAN THEY BECOME

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