Do you love tension as much as I do?

Although it’s about a month since my vacation ended – I am still not completely in the groove, and wanted to do some light reading during the weekend.

For some reason, I picked up Wuthering Heights – which is an old novel, and finished it in about a couple of sittings. I loved it; enjoyed it immensely. The plot is a dark one, and there are tragedies abound in the novel. Bad things happen all the time, and this is usually not the kind of stuff that interests me.

I was wondering what was it about it that I liked, but didn’t get down to thinking too much about it. That was until today, when I chanced across this post about the secret millionaire on Bad Money Advice, – I read this story on the WSJ earlier, and like BMA concluded that this is going to be written about a lot.

This is a story about a 100 year old lady, who passed away recently and donated about 7 million dollars to her alma mater. The thing that makes this story interesting is that the lady was not rich at all. In fact, the source of her wealth were shares of Abbot Labs that she purchased in 1935 with $180, and left untouched. That amount compounded to 7 million dollars in these 75 years.

You can read the story on the WSJ link, and then the reasons you shouldn’t read any other post about it on the BMA link.

The funny part is that this rekindled my interest in finding out what makes a story interesting, and one of the first things I found, and agreed with, is that tension makes stories interesting.

It seems so obvious when you think about it. In almost every movie, there is a hero and a villain, and there is tension between them. Think of the TV shows you like – how many of them are based on some sort of underlying tension or conflict between the characters?

Think about the writers you like, and find interesting, even the funny ones (or especially the funny ones), and think of their stories and how they invariably start with someone falling in trouble and then explore their stories. Sir P.G. Wodehouse (of the Ask Jeeves fame) is one of my favorite writers, and even his harmless stories take you through some sort of trouble that the characters are going through. Tension makes stories interesting fast, and although we may hate tension in our real life, we love seeing others face it.

Which made me wonder how the story about the woman, which to me had no tension or conflict became so popular? Of course, I understand that not everything that is interesting has to have a conflict angle, but was there any underlying tension or conflict in this story that was playing my mind sub-consciously?

Probably not. And I think the most likely answer to why this story became popular with a certain segment of people is that on the face of it – the story shows the fruits of virtues like frugality, compounding, buy and hold investing, giving, and other such stuff that people hold dearly.

It is a good narrative that helps reinforce values they already hold, and showcase it to others as a proof of what they believe in is correct. I may be completely off the mark as far as this article goes, but I do think this is a dangerous tendency as it leads us to sometimes make a web around us and completely ignore the other side of the story.

I think it is important for us to be cognizant of this tendency and try and seek things that we disagree with as frequently as possible. Who knows what you might unravel, and it might even lead to a change in your position. It will not be as much fun, but may turn out to be much more rewarding.

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