What’s Your Story?

I was struck by how well the following extract seems to fit my previous post, the Marshal Amp monologue, which features a character who rejects hard evidence that goes against his favourite story:

Stories are the means by which we navigate the world. They allow us to interpret its complex and contradictory signals. We all possess a narrative instinct: an innate disposition to listen for an account of who we are and where we stand.

When we encounter a complex issue and try to understand it, what we look for is not consistent and reliable facts but a consistent and comprehensible story. When we ask ourselves whether something “makes sense”, the “sense” we seek is not rationality, as scientists and philosophers perceive it, but narrative fidelity. Does what we are hearing reflect the way we expect humans and the world to behave? Does it hang together? Does it progress as stories should progress?

A string of facts, however well attested, will not correct or dislodge a powerful story. The only response it is likely to provoke is indignation: people often angrily deny facts that clash with the narrative “truth” established in their minds. The only thing that can displace a story is a story. Those who tell the stories run the world.

The extract is from a newspaper article by environment campaigner George Monbiot who makes a powerful case for replacing our old, cantankerous narratives with a new and kinder story. The full article is quite long but, in my opinion, well worth a read:

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/sep/09/george-monbiot-how-de-we-get-out-of-this-mess

 

Image result for story

 

Image: TED.com

20 thoughts on “What’s Your Story?

  1. Interesting article by George Monbiot. Much food for thought, much we could discuss. But not here. I’ll just say that since Brexit and Trump I have been deliberately more vocal in my political views, especially online, in the hope of bolstering calls for a kinder narrative and a more altruistic form of politics here in Britain and across the world. And I have been encouraged to see others doing the same. That is the only thing prevents the last vestiges of hope for humanity from going down the plughole leaving me naked and shivering in the bathtub of despair.

    1. I think your determination to be more outspoken is admirable. There is definitely a more generous and inclusive philosophy that needs to be developed. Really should have been there before those two events but no use crying over spilt milk. Perhaps we all took things for granted. Yes, good to hear people starting to articulate ideas – slow to get going because of shock, I think, but now well underway …

  2. I read that somewhere. So true that we dispute “facts” because we need symmetry and even if we have to create a fictional narrative of reality in our minds, we do so, as it keeps us safe and whole.

      1. I appreciate your stating it like this, Dave. The timing of your post is excellent, as I have been pondering this idea/problem/issue for some time. We all believe this to some degree but the practice is what’s challenging. xo

        1. Art and science have a way to go before they are united but when they are we may be firing on all cylinders, so to speak. Not even sure what I mean there but I like the idea of saying things that don’t quite yet make sense but have the potential to do so!

  3. Some truth to that, although I tend to think how folks interpret stories is related to their characteristics. For folks who swing more intuitive making sense is less dependent on facts and more on what they want to believe. Folks who swing more rational also like the narrative to fit their worldview but like there to be some substance underneath it, and if the facts don’t fit are more willing to question the narrative. Most folks are a combination, so everyone has a different interpretation.

    1. I like the way you attach this to character types, Dave. So important, isn’t it, to keep a balance in one’s ‘reading’ of the world? Scepticism rather than cynicism would be one aspect of that. Also, it brings home how important debate and collective decision-making are – as John Donne said, no man is an island!

      1. I think an open mind is important, but maybe even more so an awareness of when you or others are spinning a story of the world to fit their own worldview. Recognizing that in it itself helps open the mind to the idea various perspective can be valid, within limits. You might be interested in a post I wrote about 6 months back where I explore that theme, via showing analogies between digitally editing photographs and mentally editing your worldview.

        1. Thanks for the link, Dave, where you draw a fascinating and enlightening parallel between visual and verbal ‘enhancement’ – well worth a read! In the same way, I suppose, that a picture should remain broadly faithful to its object – no people deleted, for example! – so words should present a recognisable picture of the world and seek to persuade through fidelity rather than by just leaving things out.

  4. Hi Dave,
    Interesting blog. Just a few observations regarding narratives. In the past stories were shared by local groups to explain the world using a local dialect. Nowadays this process has been usurped by the global media and the general narrative we get of the world is negative because of a tradition of sensationalism – telling stories that will excite the us-against-them emotional spirit of its audience. Despair sells because that’s how we have been conditioned; it’s a bit like how war and all its paraphernalia is glorified and peace is rendered boring – hardly newsworthy. I suggest that in the new global internet world of stories, the process of storytelling to explain the world has been usurped by the complexities of freedom but without a responsible vision. Think of the ultra – nationalist groups and the resurgence of white supremacy and other religious fanaticisms taking hold of groups in the world. The media is an open slather for anyone wanting to discover a narrative of the world and this does cause problems.So my conundrum is, do we take away civil liberties for the benefit of a society of individuals? or do we lose a grip on the shared,collective narrative by offering unrestricted freedom to explore and express a particular vision of the world? Think of the successes of China for the economic prosperity of its people as a whole gained at the expense of civil liberties. Or the economic prosperity of a conservative Japan? But then again I think of the propaganda of religious regimes and the narratives they pursue to the detriment of minority groups and of its people in general.Or of the democratic regimes like America and the division its narrative is creating. It’s a hard one and I’m still trying to make sense of it all.

  5. Thanks for this detailed and considered response. I agree that there is a dilemma between censorship and openness – as you put it, ‘do we take away civil liberties for the benefit of a society of individuals? or do we lose a grip on the shared, collective narrative by offering unrestricted freedom to explore and express a particular vision of the world?’

    There are risks in both directions but I would go for freedom of expression. That at least stimulates the creation of better stories and demonstrates faith in the ability of other people to draw useful and positive conclusions from a variety of sources. If the only acceptable goal of society is economic advancement then the stories people tell will be pretty dull. Similarly, if our main aim is to exclude ‘foreigners’ and their influence then stories will be nasty. Both sets of narratives will seek to favour simplicity over complexity.

    Hard? You bet! Making sense? Let’s keep trying!

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