Tuesday, January 20, 2015

What are we telling ourselves with our stories?

I was listening to a mini-seminar by MarketingForFashionistas this afternoon, and she was talking in part of it about our 'money stories'--how the way we talk to ourselves about our finances and how we feel about what we say determined whether we see the opportunities we have. Whether we see deficit or abundance. It got me thinking in broader terms about how any story we tell will define the possibilities we see. Which got me thinking about how I stopped watching the news years ago. See, it was giving me panic attacks--even the ones that were supposedly more balanced than the scaremongering ones were all about exactly what is going wrong and what exact details that wrongness has, and none of them spent more than a few seconds, at the very end, sometimes, on things that were good and uplifting.

If even.

Then, of course, I started drifting on that line of thought and I came to connect these ideas:
  • All we hear is about how corrupt and useless every government is
  • All we hear about is how badly we're damaging the environment and how it's all going to collapse any second
  • All we hear about is how badly people are treating people for really stupid things like religion and skin color
  • We never hear about how there are people trying to fix, trying to help, trying to make things better
It paints a pretty dire picture of loss, violence, threat, fear, and perpetual hopelessness.

And then I was listening to my usual gothy mix as I packed up orders, and I thought--this is a better story, because in this world, there's beauty and mystery and something to learn even in loss.

See, as I writer, I've trained myself and been trained to look for the story in everything. And I've read a lot about how the human brain is wired for story--how if you can find a narrative, it'll sink into people's minds and define their worlds. It's how marketing works.* It's how history works.** It's also how fearmongering assholes work, because there's a loophole in this, that people remember badness a lot more sharply than goodness, that people are basically going to choose themselves and their loved ones over strangers, and that if you only have one worldview presented, it's really hard to even find another, let alone adopt it.

Well, I call bullshit on all that mess.

Because we're telling ourselves this really awful story about how there's no options other than taking over other people's stuff because there's not enough, even though we live in a stupidly rich country. We're telling ourselves that all this violence is justified when we're causing it and terrorism when others do, and that there's no other way to handle disputes. We're telling ourselves that grinding away at things is the only way to live, and that people who don't do the job-house-kids-giant car-huge debt thing are weirdos that you can't take seriously. We're telling ourselves that it's the end times, so we're telling very few stories about any sort of future--so we're not even trying to avoid the collapse.

And it's causing the same things we're afraid of.

Which is stupid, because we can tell ourselves other stories.

We could tell stories about how we can get through this rough patch in history with smarter spending, better diplomacy, a shift away from damaging practices across the board, and toward sustainability not just for the environment, but cultural and emotional sustainability. We could be telling stories about how every problem has a solution, and those solutions could come from anywhere and should be looked at seriously and celebrated. We could be telling ourselves stories about how we can own more of our own lives, get our hands dirty, take care of our own neighbors better so that there aren't opportunities for mistreatment and famine and violence and really vicious lies--because we have better stories to combat them.

Worldview is a story we tell ourselves about how the world works and what our role is. Isn't it better to find a better world, to make a better one, than to just sit there and accept a crappy one, passively?

I'm done accepting.

*Even though marketing is supporting unhealthy ideas about masculinity and femininity, and social expectations that are ridiculous, but that's a rant for a different day.
**And that's why history taught in schools leaves out all the divergent and interesting stuff--really strange and alarming details make it hard to impose a narrative, even if they make for a more accurate view.
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