Last Saturday at the Michigan Policy Summit, Jim Hightower drove home the power of story and narrative when he reminded us that, “Martin Luther King didn’t say ‘I have a policy paper.'”
Nonetheless, I heard plenty of statistics that day.
And I’ve forgotten them all.
But I do remember the story that Amy Goodman told about a military family who lost their son to a suicide after he came home from Iraq.
It was a spellbinding story, you knew where it was going when she talked about his obsession with weapons after he came home from the war, and how his parents had to keep sharp objects away from him.
You knew where it was going when she told about how he asked his father to hold him one night.
You knew where it was going when she described his father coming home to a quiet house.
And then she told how his father found that his son had hanged himself in basement, and the last time he held his son was cutting him down from the rafter.
I don’t know if I’ll ever forget that story.
I also remember the story of the mom whose toddler was sick over the holidays. Many babies have times when they don’t keep food down, so for the first few days she didn’t go to the hospital.
By New Year’s Eve, though, the child was still sick, and Mom knew it was time to go to the doctor. There she found out her child had tried to become a human piggy bank, and a quarter was lodged in the toddler’s esaphogus.
She didn’t go into the details of the New Year’s Day surgery, but I’m certain she was terrified. She did tell us about the bureaucratic nightmare she faced when the bills came due.
You see, even though she had insurance, she was changing insurance as of January first, so her carriers and the hospital fought to try to get each other to cover the bills.
I don’t remember how much the anesthesiologist cost, but I do remember how hard it was on this woman to go through that. And even if I don’t know the dollar amount, I know there was a lot of wasted money as people fought to get someone else to cover the bill.
There is a time and place for statistics. They are important for analyzing alternatives.
But if you want something that people will remember, don’t give them a factoid, give them a story.