Sunday, 22 June 2014

The Power of the Narrative

The world I grew up in was one of infinite possibility.  The stars were in reach, new discoveries seemed to happen with stunning regularity and there seemed to be no limits to what could be accomplished.  Sure the world wasn't perfect - no one denied that there were people less fortunate, and places less developed - but the assumption was that it would only be a matter of time before they would be equally as developed and prosperous.

The youngest of three, I was fortunate to be raised by in a family of voracious readers.  It was only natural to want to know what those black lines on the crisp white pages were, so I worked to understand how this whole reading thing worked.  As my skills grew, and vocabulary increased, I gained an appreciation of the structure of stories.  That appreciation did not translate, however, into an appreciation of English classes - I preferred reading and thinking about the story itself over attempting to psychoanalyze the author or divine any deeper meaning within the words.

To me, barring an ability to transcend time and space, how should I know what the author was thinking when they put pen to paper?  It seemed both presumptuous and futile to try second guessing what was going on in someone else's head.  Further, it was too subject to interpretation for my tastes.But the structure...why things were put together in certain ways, and how a different turn of phrase or interpretation of a word could change things...that was important.  It was far more important than my younger more idealistic self could conceive.  It has taken years for me to realize, to recognize the importance of what can loosely be termed as the narrative of life, environment, community and society.

The narrative I grew up with was that life, in spite of my circumstances, was full of possibilities. There was no reason that I couldn't go as far as my ambitions and abilities would take me.  I still feel that way, but somewhere, somehow, between the time I grew up and now, something changed.  What changed was this unrecognized but pervasive narrative, the one that provides our communities and our society with a common framework and bond. Within this narrative, self determination, individual accomplishment and empowerment have morphed into determinism based on group identities and a hierarchy of victim-hood; a moral compass has been seceded by moral equivalence, to the detriment of everyone. What permeates the education system and the media are that there are victims and oppressors, and those who belong to the victim class can never be oppressors.  Those who dare question the orthodoxy are heretics fit only to be publicly burned in effigy.  Free Speech is only for speech that is approved by the self-appointed arbiters of all that is right, good and true, irrespective of reality.

This narrative needs to change.