Sunday, November 4, 2012

Story Wars

Ever punch somebody in the face with a story? 

I'll bet you have, because that's one of the things stories are good for -- face-punching.

Well, maybe not "good," exactly, but definitely useful.

Everybody's talking these days about Culture Wars, but what's really happening is Story Wars. Vast amounts of time, energy and money are being expended to tell you a story, because stories make the world go round. They change the way we think, the way we feel, and  the way we then proceed to shape our future. They enliven us and give us hope.

The best teachers have always understood this. Jesus, for example, was an early master of the well-placed narrative.

But the powers-that-would-perpetuate-themselves understand this as well, and try to take up the plowshares of stories and beat them into weapons -- to re-forge them as swords, guns, and hand-grenades.

I am not referring, here, to some Illuminati-esque organization (although they're definitely out there... I'm talkin' to you, Colonel Sanders). Neither is this a reference to pinko-commie-liberal-elitist manipulators; or whacko, right-wing, in-bed-with-the-Koch-brothers rednecks.

This is us

This is you, and me, and the way we let our fear drive us to buy into stories that break down our inherent solidarity with all human and animalkind, and the world we share together.

Aaaaaand the moment I said that bit about "solidarity with animal kind," half of you just placed me into a story about hippie-new-age-freak shows.

Think about that. Think about how quickly that happened; how it continues to happen every single moment of your life.

A woman who's been hurt by a man (or, more likely, a lot of men -- because men seem to be universally capable of jerkness) hears a man say something that feels violent, and in her fear of such violence she grasps for control by placing that man in a dominant narrative of misogyny and abuse.

He's no longer a man who did something rotten, he's one of those people. He's a storybook villain -- a remorseless member of the He-Man-Woman-Hater's Club, and any sort of restorative narrative becomes unthinkable.

Villains can't be reasoned with... they must be crushed.

That same man hears this hurt, scared, angry woman's story about him and he (being the hero of his own story, of course) tells a different story, one in which a good guy who feels emasculated by Ikea and postmodern gender confusion must form a soap company to subversively sell women their own body-fat; and burn buildings into smiley faces to fend off the hateful Amazonian femme-nazis who wish to destroy him.

What all this storytelling overlooks is that we are all afraid. 

We are all lonely, all just as easily capable of villainy as we are of heroism. Stories, at their best, ought to be the way in which we bridge the unbridgeable, crossing the divide between our individual islands and connecting them all into a network that, when joined, becomes an unsinkable raft in the unpredictable monsoons of tomorrow. As Orson Scott Card says in his short story collection, Maps in a Mirror, "It is in large part through shared stories that communities create themselves and bind themselves together."

I would add that the inverse is also true, because often the way stories do this is by delineating an out-group -- destroying what once was whole in order to find a new solidarity in Otherness.

This is a form of violence, and it is not what stories are for.

So next time you hear a story that's hard, and cruel, and slices down into the marrow of your inevitable fear, remember to breathe. Stop, close your eyes, and try to tell a story that does what stories are meant to do. Tell a story that will build empathy, bridge a gap, and bind the world a little tighter together, in love.

Give up the illusion of control, for a moment. Give up being right, and sacrifice yourself on the altar of a truly good story. Good stories make good love, and love will always drive out fear.

Tell good stories.

3 comments:

  1. I like this post, even though I disagree with your premise; I don't think stories are inherently for anything. I believe that they are a kind of technology (maybe the original technology) for creating and sharing world-views and teaching: transferring knowledge, ideas, attitudes, and emotions from one person to the next.

    Like all technologies, they can be used for good or for ill. And that point, you do make quite powerfully.

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  2. I reject your narrative of a cold, soulless world, Nina :)

    But seriously... it's obvious that stories, like iron, can be banged into any shape you'd like, and that the proof is in the telling. I'm just choosing a narrative that holds that there's an inherent MEANING that under-girds the whole thing - a positive narrative of LOVE that's gonna win. LOVE WINS.

    I can't prove it, I rarely feel great about its possibility, but it gets me up in the morning. It keeps me writing.

    That's my story.

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  3. I applaud your stance in a world that requires existential choice. I strive daily to make the same one.

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