Of Stories and People
Continuing with my previously mentioned interest in Francis Bacon, I present another post with a Baconian title.
Sara A. Hoyt is one of my favorite authors and bloggers. It undoubtedly helps that she espouses views very similar to my own, but the fact is, she is a talented author and well worth reading. I would read her works even if she held radically different views than I. Recently, as in “today,” she posted a new article to her blog, According to Hoyt. Entitled simply “Narratives,” it discusses the power and importance of both our individual and collective public narratives; how they help shape who and what we are. Her post has led me to think about something I was told long ago. First, though, some of her words:
“The story is not just about who you are. It’s also about what kind of place the world is, and what other people are like.
If you’re the sort of person who thinks that most people, however annoying, are basically decent, just trying to live their lives, it will inform your choices, and your own narrative in a far different way, than if you think every human being who ever lived is a sh*tweasel, and that a not inconsiderable number of them are out to get you personally. Or that they will be dishonest if given the slightest chance.”
Over 20 years ago, I was comparing notes on how to deal with psychiatric patients with a psychologist. He told me then
“The way you provide or ‘do’ therapy will be largely determined by whether you think people are basically good or basically bad.”
He was right. What he didn’t mention was that the way we view people influences far more than how a therapist provides therapy or the modality he or she chooses. Among other things, it influences:
- How you raise and discipline your children
- How you relate to your spouse or significant other
- How you view your job and employer
- How you view and handle your finances
- How you understand and live out your religious beliefs (if any), and how you view religion in general
- Your relative ability or inability to trust other people
See, we are social critters. As a result, most of us really can’t live out much of a life in isolation (I would go further and suggest we aren’t intended to do so, but that is a different discussion). This is what makes our narrative so very important. Each of us will interact with others every day. I submit that if you find your interactions with others to be unfulfilling and unrewarding, one of the first places to look is at your narrative. What is it you believe about yourself? Who and what are you? What do you believe about other people? These are not easy questions to answer, but they are essential if we are to improve our lives as social critters. The good news? If your narrative is less than you might like it to be, it can be changed – if you’re willing to work really hard.*
Without digging into the interplay between our personal and public narrative, without discussing the role and influences of religion, culture, experience and events, it’s important to note that our public narrative is also powerful and important. From Sara A. Hoyt, again:
“A lot of our views of the world are informed, not just by news and stories of the real world, but by our entertainment, the religion and legends of our culture, the protocols of our society.
If you expect everyone to be decent, your public holidays and the way you keep your property will be different. In Portugal where private property isn’t as secure (partly through an history of invasions that got ingrained in the deep consciousness) tall walls surround properties and you don’t leave outside anything you don’t want to walk away. In the states, in most places, we leave whatever outside in our un-walled properties, secure in the belief it will stay there.”
“Lately — no, I mean that, more so than in the past — our public narrative has disturbed me. It is clear from even sitcoms that the writers for television don’t expect anyone to be decent or honest. They behave as if the average human being is just waiting to become monsters if not watched/if you aren’t vigilant/if laws don’t hold them in check, etc. Even “heroes” will commit adultery and behave like weasels away from their area of heroism.
These are not just bad narratives, they are objectively wrong narratives. Even in places like NK or Cuba, good and decency flourish, sometimes as a single grace note, sometimes against all odds.”
Her comments are consistent with my observations. There seems to be this overwhelming tendency to expect the absolute worst from people. Honestly, I’m not sure what’s driving it. What I am sure of is this: it is actively destructive of both freedom and the values that help support it. In his book “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress,” Robert Heinlein had his protagonist, “Manuel Garcia O’Kelly-Davis,” make the point that most people who advocate for the passage of any law don’t do so for the purposes of keeping themselves (my question: and arguably those like them?) from doing something. Rather, the purpose of the proposed law is always to control those “other people,” whoever they might be. Hoyt touches on this when she notes:
“If you think most average, normal humans are basically despicable, you will crave a big government that will keep “them sonsofdogs” under control, so they can’t hurt/steal from the “good people” like you. This view requires you to have in your head a natural aristocracy, the “good people” who are like you and don’t have ill intents and can, therefore, be trusted with power.
People who think people are basically decent, though they can respond to incentives not to be, and so we try to keep people free to be as decent as they can be, and not to short-circuit them into being evil.”
This, then, brings us back to an earlier point. What do we/you/I believe about ourselves and other people? Are they basically good or basically bad, in our view? If you believe people are basically bad, you’re going to have a difficult time really getting behind efforts to significantly increase personal freedom for people in general. After all, your underlying beliefs are going to tell you most people can’t be trusted to do the right thing with their freedom. It doesn’t matter which political label you wear, if any. If your thoughts on increasing freedom run toward legal or social control of those who, you think, might use such freedom to engage in activities (including expressing ideas) of which you don’t approve (absent any harm to others or abuse of other’s rights), then it’s probably time for you to take a long, hard look at exactly why you think that way.
So, what is your narrative? What is your story? Who are you as a person? Who are we as a nation or people? Those are questions worth asking, for all of us.
*NOTE: if you want to know how to discover and even change your narrative, let me know. I’d be delighted to get you started on that road for no charge whatsoever.