Fiction is considered by many to be entertaining, amusing, and a better use of time than watching television but not instructive, enlightening, or useful in any practical way. As writers, we know this to be untrue. We understand the value of good stories. We recognize the ways in which "To Kill a Mockingbird" teaches morality, the manner in which "Beloved" shows the shame of sin and the beauty of forgiveness, and how poetry instills the analytical skills to make sense of life's other situations and problems.
As a collective group who loves books and writes books, it is knowledge we have always closely held. But there are also many people not in our field who also have an understanding and an appreciation of the value inherent in fiction. Perhaps it is these individuals who can be most convincing in pleading our case that stories, even made-up ones, are invaluable in ways that extend beyond pure entertainment.
Eric Parnell, Founder and Director of Gerring Wealth Management, is one such individual. Although his passion and career in is in finance, he doesn't just understand the value of numbers but also of words.
Why Literature Matters Above All Else: A Mathematicians Perspective
It is a comment that I hear made often. While literature and poetry are certainly interesting fields of study, they really don't matter in the real world. And those that are English majors are left with nothing to do for a living other than teach. I strongly disagree with such glib and shortsighted conclusions, however. For those with a background in the literary field possess the skills that are required most in the business world today, which is the ability to analyze and think strategically.
I am a numbers person and always have been. For as long as I can remember, numbers would be working their way through my mind in one way or another. From quantifying the number of objects in a room, solving arbitrary math equations in my head, visualizing how data should be organized or estimating distance on the road ahead, my mind is constantly analyzing and processing numbers. This personal trait has certainly served me well in my path to becoming a professional in the fields of economics, finance and statistics. But it was not until I came to understand the importance of words and the power of literature that I was able to truly excel in my field.
The ability to successfully conduct quantitative analysis is certainly a powerful thing. After all, it is in a laboratory where some of our greatest scientific discoveries have been made, and it is through mathematics that hypotheses are turned into concrete theory. But a pure reliance on the quantitative can fall short in a variety of ways. Numbers bring you facts and provide you with outcomes where distinct conclusions can be made, but they are not as well equipped to deal with the abstract. Nor do they necessarily inspire the instinct to stand back from the data and scrutinize it from a variety of qualitative perspectives. Instead, an over reliance on conclusions based purely on statistics can result in dogmatic beliefs that may end up proving unreliable, particularly when the associated environment suddenly changes due to what end up being unforeseen circumstances. This is where the role of words and literary interpretation becomes so important.
The practice of analyzing literature and poetry helps hone the skills needed for conducting rigorous strategic analysis and communicating conclusions effectively. Works of fiction force readers to explore and interpret various situations and to effectively construct arguments that are based more on opinion than fact and thus require greater layering of thought. It is also extraordinary how lessons and themes applicable to both life and business have been explored throughout history in the works of Dickens, Shakespeare, Twain and Thoreau among many others. Authors both past and present introduce a challenge in every book or poem they write, and they provide insights in the various ways these obstacles can be overcome. And they do so in a way that audiences can relate and understand.
In the end, it is not necessarily with the person that makes the discovery where the greatest influence resides. Instead, it is with the person who is able to take a discovery, understand its strategic importance, and communicate it effectively to the masses. These are skills that require both the quantitative and the qualitative. And those that take the time to embrace the literary arts put themselves in the best position to succeed in this regard.
Eric B. Parnell, CFA is Founder and Director of Gerring Wealth Management, which is located in Pennsylvania and serves clients nationwide. To learn more, please visit www.gerringwm.com.
Causes Sherry Parnell Supports
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Habitat for Humanity, Heifer International