There is an amazing letter that I read often. It comes from the D&D twitch show Critical Role. In it, Kerrek, a new leader of the town of Westrun, speaks to Keyleth, who is struggling along her own journey.
I want to talk about it, because it is the journey described in this letter that has always hit home for me. I highly suggest reading it before reading the rest of this article.
“I am not wise, and I do not give advice, but I have come to know a few things.”
I wanted to talk about this letter because of how well it explains the human experience. The tone of this letter, if you have read it, are enormous.
Shame and Pride.
In only 9 short paragraphs Rothfuss is able to skillfully describe the pain, loss, and hope of a man in the twilight of his life.
You need to read this because of how much emotional Intelligence is packed into a single short letter, and how much empathy you can learn from it.
“I would hammer at the world, and breaking felt like making to me, and I was good at it. And while I was not wrong, neither was I entirely right”
This is the line that made me fall in love with Patrick Rothfuss. He has a simplicity in the prose of his writing, utilizing small words with gigantic emotions.
I want to explore this letter because it does such an amazing job of explaining the emotions and growth he has gone through as a character. It also aligns closely with my own journey.
I have always been a weird balance of sanguine and melancholic. My earliest memories tend to revolve around the deaths of family members. Both my mother and father were from large families with 13 siblings in total between them. There was a long time my mom felt cursed every fall, and we seemed to lose a family member between Halloween and Christmas every year.
So here I was, a child with a lot of sadness and loss, a funeral march seeming to play in the background, and a lot of big emotions that I did not understand. This somberness has followed me across the decades.
The music I listened to generally fluctuated between angry punk and rap, with a surprising mix of minor key songs about loss. I would bounce between anger and depression regularly, but rarely show it.
I did not yell.
I did not cry.
“Men don’t do that.”
So, I bottled my emotions for a later date, letting them ferment until bursting, and using the destructive force of the explosions to know down walls.
“Did you know that there are some seeds that cannot sprout unless they are first burned?”
I am talking about Patrick Rothfuss’ Critical Role letter for a reason. In only a few hundred words, he was able to articulate my feelings and flaws without ever meeting me.
Imagine this feeling. I was able to find a simple and concise piece of artwork to make me, a bitter and emotionally damaged punk, feel understood.
While I am talking about a piece of writing that made me feel seen, that is the lower limit of what good fiction can do. It can give you the empathy to understand anyone going through any situation.
All good fiction requires drama. And that drama usually comes from the greatest challenges the character ever faces in their lives.
Harry Potter had to struggle with the deaths of his parents, growing as an individual, and overcoming a massive evil.
Atticus Finch has to stand up for an innocent man and try to save him from a society that refused to change.
Frodo and Samwise needed to build a trusting relationship that could survive not only countless energies, but their own worst impulses.
Fiction gives us the tools to understand people and hear their innermost thoughts as they go through the impossible.
“They all want the same good things in different ways”
So now think about your business. Picture anyone you work with. What are they going through?
How many people are struggling with the death of loved ones and difficulty forming relationships like Harry Potter?
Who is struggling to watch things like systemic racism in society like Atticus?
Who is losing deals because their greed is overcoming their compassion like Frodo nearly did?
All great fiction requires a great truth about the human condition. Even in the most fantastical worlds of Douglas Adam’s or the most ubsurd scenes of Lewis Carol you find the truth about the human condition. We see parallels to the work of Margarett Atwood and Orwell in the modern world, and imagine ourselves as the conflicted characters trapped in “A Series of Unfortunate Events”.
But it it not only ourselves that we imagine. We watch the characters for familiar traits in our friends, loved ones, and acquaintances.
“When you make a mistake with metal, you can melt things down and start fresh”
It is easy for anyone on a professional networking site to suggest non-fiction. There are mountains of books on self improvement, but few that put you in the shoes of those looking to improve.
Fiction does that.
It gives you the tools to empathize with people and aid them on their own journeys.
I have read many transformative books in my lifetime, but it is the Fiction books that help me best understand what others are thinking and feeling.
By reading more fiction, you do not get more skills, you get deeper relationships.
Imagine asking Jill in accounting about her Walter Mitty-esque fantasies she has throughout the day.
Imagine seeing your SDR and her habit of stating across out of the office window like Gatsby stared at the blinking green light.
“My ungentle hands are learning how to tend a plot of land.”
Now it is up to you. I ask that you go out and plant new stories you you can harvest better understanding.
I ask that you go out and sympathize with the villains and seek understanding with the minor characters.
Collect them. Learn To listen to what is not said in the stories, both real and fictional.