Elevating Judaism Through the 'Ladder of Abstraction'
A concept adapted from theories of rhetoric can help Judaism add both intimacy and universality to the Jewish story.
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The more specific, the more universal.
A paradoxical truth that can be difficult to understand, this is called the “ladder of abstraction.” It’s a concept adapted by some narrative writers from the theories of S.I. Hayakawa, a former U.S. senator and English professor.
The “ladder of abstraction” is a tool that encompasses a variety of linguistic types for storytelling, with diction that goes from concrete and specific at the bottom, to abstract and universal at the top.
At the bottom of the ladder, a story subject — whether it’s a person, place, or thing — is made real through vivid description and detail. The more specific these details, the more universal or relatable they become to us.
And the more universal or relatable they become to us (the top of the ladder), the more we can empathize with them. Even a story far different from our own.