The importance of stories to humans cannot be overstated. Well perhaps it can, but I’ve yet to see anybody succeed yet. 🙂 I’ve written about the importance of stories before. My interest in the subject began when reading the novels Name of the Wind and A Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss. It is clear that we learn from stories. In fact it is often suggested that as a method of pedagogy that we try to create narratives, try to use storytelling to teach. I’ve yet to find a way to do this with fluid dynamics, but when I think about how I retain knowledge best, it is certainly the ability to think in terms of stories, rather than a lose collection of facts. When teaching, even if you don’t have a story to tell, trying to create a common thread through your lessons does help.
A former student, and now friend, would often start a conversation with people she was just meeting and getting to know with the question “Tell me the story of your life.” I think it’s pretty easy to see our lives as a story. I am not sure though that this is something we do when we are adolescents. Perhaps we haven’t lived long enough, and it is unclear when this process begins, but at some point you will look at the past and forecast into the future and there will seem to be this story you are playing out.
But is this a good way of thinking about our lives? Sometimes I think we do this because it seems more interesting, and even though I still think there is a lot of values to stories, perhaps we shouldn’t be seeing our own life as a story.
Some philosophical meat to think about here is are you the same person in the past as you are in the future? Stories tend to follow a particular character who may change, but rarely as much as actual humans do. Is your 20 year old self the same as your 60 year old self? Maybe at best we are a series of shorter stories instead of one long story. Our desire for continuity and cause and effect perhaps extends the narrative for longer than it perhaps should.
More importantly when we think our life in terms of a story do we then sometimes predict the ending? Do we limit ourselves by having expectations based on this narrative we have about our lives? In a recent podcast I listened too, they profiled a family who had a story of their life. They were beekeepers, and when tragedy struck and it all came to an end, they could see themselves any other way. What they had been doing for 40 years was who they were. Their house decorated with bees. How do you change the story when life takes an unexpected turn? It can be very difficult to find happiness or contentedness when expectations do not match the reality of your situation. This podcast also did another episode where they talked about changing your story and how doing that can help us move on. We might find inspiration in others who have changed the story of their lives, we may also become limited by others who assume that we can’t change our story. Perhaps we have no choice but to see our lives as a story, and if we are going to do that, perhaps we just need to learn how to better hijack that process to write those new chapters that can take the story into a different direction.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject? Do you think of your life as a story? Do you think it’s good or bad that you do? Have you had to change your story unexpectedly? Was it difficult?
There is a nice discussion on the topic on another podcast I listen to if you are interested in thinking about this subject more.
In my previous blog post I posited the idea that every moment in one’s life maybe is as remarkable as the next. But even if this were the absolute truth, it doesn’t change the fact that most of us simply don’t behave this way. We are emotional beings and so it’s not surprising that in times of great joy, sadness, anger, excitement (or what emotion we might be feeling in the extreme) those moments are going to make a stronger impression. The physiological response is immense when we feel emotion very strongly and the fact is, certain things are always going to “stick out” in our memories more than others.
Going beyond the biology, I think that humans have a real attraction to stories. I wrote a blog post on this importance of stories so I will not repeat myself
here, but I think that it is safe to say that we are all rather attached to the story of our own life. We really want our lives to have a good story. Some people embellish things to make their own story better. Some people don’t think much of the story of their life compared to ones they read in books or see in movies. I guess I might be that type of person. I often worry about what kind of stories I will tell my son about my life given I was always fascinated by my own father’s stories of how he left India and traveled across much of Europe along his way here. And of course there is also a bit of an art to telling stories. There is an art to drawing an audience in and perhaps it always requires a little bit of embellishment as well (A good movie concerning this is Big Fish starring Ewan McGregor. Great movie!). In Patrick Rothfuss’ book A Wise Man’s Fear (his series, The King Killer Chronicles are really a celebration to stories and storytelling) the main character tells a story of a poor hungry beggar who has no luck finding compassion amongst many of the cultural groups in his world until he finds a group of people that are the main character’s origin who are traveling musicians, performers, and story tellers. They offer the poor man food and a place to sleep and even invite him to stay and join with them on their travels. The man finds it hard to accept for he has nothing to give back for their generosity. They simply reply that he has a story to tell, the story of his own life, and thus a story they have never heard before. They value stories and thus to them it is more than a fair trade. So I think we would all do well to remind ourselves that we really all do have at least one story to tell…our own. And that story is like no one else’s.
I wonder if there is a connection to what we think about the story of our own life and our self-esteem?
Regardless of what we think of our own story, I think that inside we really want our story to be amazing and so we have a tendency to look at something like
the chain of events described in my previous post as amazing, improbable, and perhaps as though we are playing are part in a fate that has been laid out by a supernatural being given how amazing and improbable the events are. Personally I think that existence as a whole is likely improbable, but here we are anyway. Love is probably the most intense and wonderful of emotions we experience and so it is no wonder that are desire and attachment to stories involving love are so strong. Whether it is love lost or love found, it doesn’t matter. This is a story we can all relate to since it is such a strong part of the human experience. I think that our attraction to the love story is ultimately why arranged marriages and on-line dating are ultimately unsatisfying, because even if those do end up in love, the beginning of the story seems probable, mechanical, and thus uninteresting.
I shall leave you with a wonderful song about stories that lead to love. I hope you all think about your story today, and I hope you find some good in it. The best part about our own stories is that we really never know how it’s going to end. If we knew, that would take all the fun out of it. 🙂
There is nothing like the having a child that teaches you more what a woman goes through, and reminds you what you don’t. I’ve spent most of my adult life becoming aware of the position of privilege I enjoy as a man in a patriarchal society. The hardships that women face when it comes to unwanted advances, objectification and legislation of their bodies, being judged by appearances over the content of what’s inside, and of course the even harsher realities of domestic abuse and sexual violence. But having journeyed with my wife through pregnancy, birth, and caring for a baby the world couldn’t seem more upside down.
In my new favorite book series, The Kingkiller Chronicles, by Patrick Rothfuss he describes a culture called the Ademre. In this culture they are not very sexually conservative. Sex and love are separate and so sleeping around is no big deal. As a result of this lifestyle they have not made the connection that a man is associated with making children. Women think they just sort of “get pregnant”, because there is no monogamy. As a result they think other cultures who think there is such thing as “fatherhood” are silly. I know this doesn’t sound very convincing to you, but the book takes place in a non-modern society so you can’t do any DNA tests or anything, and you just have to read it to know that it’s very hard to find a hole in the reasoning. The main character of the book who is male cannot either and feels extremely frustrated that he can’t convince the woman that men play a role in making a child. Both my wife and I feel even uncomfortable reading that section, because men feel so diminished that you actually start to feel bad for men. That’s some good writing Rothfuss! And I know that is his intent. To make you feel uncomfortable. (as an aside, I think finally figured out the hole in how a culture could not develop in such a way, but that’s for another time). My point in this preamble is that through pregnancy up until now it is pretty clear, how little I have to do with creating life. One microscopic sperm out of millions, and my part was over. Life grows in a woman and then after its out she feeds it! Amazing!
Her body changes. She feels the motion of the baby inside. She feels the baby leave her body. Her hormones are jacked up the whole time and even now. Her need for attachment through breastfeeding. There is just a very clear biological change every step of the way, that my body does not go through. Watching even just how amazing she is right now, and how in control she is in taking care of this child, for something she has never done before is just phenomenal to see. The hormones get strong sometimes, and she cries sometimes because she feels the slightest failure in breastfeeding, or if she accidentally scratches him or something, but she is amazing. And then their is the pain in giving birth. A pain unlike I’ve never seen her go through before. She tried to be brave and go without the epidural to begin with. Neither of us are believers that natural childbirth is necessary or anything, but I knew she would want to test the waters. Had she been able to go into labor naturally and do the things that are supposed to help in dealing with the pain of contractions I believe she could have done it, but regardless women have been doing this for a couple hundred thousand years and here we are today.
She has been the star of the show, and I a supporting actor. Now before men reading this get up and arms, let me say that, there is no question that this child will do better the more adults it has in his life, and that two people can better care for the child than one. And an equal partnership will be not only be a great advantage to the child in raising, but give him an excellent example to look up to when he forms his own relationships with others. Whether they be friendships or romantic relationships, regardless of his sexual orientation.
What inspired me to write this post is, how is it that we live in a patriarchal society? Why am I am not the one fighting to assert myself as an important gender? How can any man not come to realize that women are absolutely amazing? Is it just because of our physical strength? This seems like a poor answer, but possibly. One biological aspect that I know men feel in regards to birthing is fear. Fear that their offspring are not their own and are less likely to care for the offspring as a result. Is this fear so strong that it has led to the control of women and their bodies just to make sure that we can guarantee that the offspring she has belongs to us? Given that we evolved in social groups, that had community support to help raise children, even this seems like not a very good answer, but possibly.
But then I wondered if it isn’t all just overcompensation. The fear that we might not be really that important after all and thus we assert ourselves the most. We joke all the time when we see a guy drive down the street in his loud and chrome fitted truck with giant wheels …”What’s he compensating for?” What if it all this is just men trying to make themselves seem more in control than they really are? More powerful than they really are?
Some questions to think about. This man has to go feed his child some breast milk his wife made and stored in a bottle while she catches up on some much needed sleep. 🙂
Who doesn’t love a good story? We see it television, in movies, and in books. We all love good stories told around a campfire, around the dinner table. We love writers and directors and people who can weave a good story together. Are stories just something that purely are for entertainment if they are fiction, and education if they are true? Is there any such thing as a true story (and if there is, is it exciting enough to listen to)? Is there any such thing as a fictional story?
There are plenty of people I’m sure who have addressed this topic, so I don’t think I am coming up with anything new here. The value of stories and storytelling has been on my mind ever since I read Patrick
Rothfuss’ two books The Name of the Wind and A Wise Man’s Fear. The main character in that book is from a group of people that are somewhat gypsy like. They live their lives on the road traveling from town to town putting on performances of plays, telling stories, acrobatics, and playing music and singing songs. They are performers. The main plot of the series (which is not finished yet and I’m anxiously awaiting the 3rd and final book in the series) is that the main character is trying to determine the truth behind a traumatic childhood incident (don’t want to give too much away). The source of the traumatic event was something that he heard as a story and thought it was just a myth, something not real, and thus when this myth does seem real he questions his own memory of the event, since he was a child and could possibly have just made a story fit what he witnessed, or did it really happen. As this main character grows and travels he hears more stories from different cultures and different people. Stories are always slightly different because good storytellers exaggerate a bit here and there and of course stories generally change throughout time as they get passed down and pass from region to region. taking on aspects of the culture they move into. In a way the main character is learning about what’s real through what everyone thinks are fictional stories. Taking bits and pieces from all the different stories and putting it together into a narrative that might explain what happened to him as a child. The books represent masterful storytelling themselves, but the author really hits home the value of stories in general. The main character states at one point “There is truth to every story”.
Truer words were never spoken.
Fiction is defined as:
1. a. An imaginative creation or a pretense that does not represent actuality but has been invented.
b. The act of inventing such a creation or pretense.
2. A lie.
3. a. A literary work whose content is produced by the imagination and is not necessarily based on fact.
b. The category of literature comprising works of this kind, including novels and short stories.
Even the most damning definition of fiction here “A lie” can carry with it truth. If you know someone is lying you might know then that the opposite is true. You might know that to find truth more investigation is needed. You might try to understand why I’m lying and learn something about why people lie. I think we need to be mindful that this doesn’t necessarily mean that there still isn’t any truth to be found within the context of our imagination. And I think everybody sort of gets that, but for a while I was heavily into non-fiction because I was like I have so much to learn, and I still do, but I think in my mind I had forgotten sort I also decided to write about this today because of an article I read recently regarding stories and how they impact our view of the world. For instance if we are old stories about violence repeatedly this may skew our view of how prevalent violence is. The article has many more thought provoking ideas than that, but the gist is that stories shape our lives, because we do search for meaning in every story and when we read only one kind of story all the time, whether it is non-fiction, a news story in the media, or in a movie, our neurons start to forge pathways that make that one kind of story a narrative for our life. So it seems it is important to actually fill yourself with different types of stories.
I love reading. My wife and I actually read stories together, with usually me reading and her listening. I tend to read in a British accent most of the time, because hey it makes the story sound better for me, but I also try to do different voices for different characters. She likes the way I read, but I sort of wish she would read to me more too, because when we started she was the one that read to me, and it was actually her getting into the reading and doing different voices that made me feel comfortable getting into it. 🙂 She says I’m better at it, and maybe that’s true, but I just hope I haven’t taken something away from her that she enjoyed doing. I do find value in reading a story out loud, telling it. It makes you think about the characters more, what their moods and emotions might be. I sort of find that when I read to myself I pay
more attention to the non-dialogue part, where as when I read out loud I pay more attention to the dialogue. It’s a very different experience. I strongly recommend giving it a try. 🙂 Rothfuss’ books have also made me think that it would be cool to have, instead of a book club, a story club where once a month you meet and tell stories to each other. I am super excited to read stories to my child that is soon to be in this world, and I hope I can share the appreciation I have for the value of stories. 🙂
“Nothing in the world is harder than convincing someone of an unfamiliar truth” – said by Kvothe in A Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
Every person on the planet can agree on one thing. The world could be a better place. For those of us who strive towards equality, wish to reduce human suffering, and care about the planet as a whole the world looks fairly messed up. Some people ignore the problems. That’s a bit selfish perhaps, but the weight can be a lot to bear and we all have our limits, so who am I to judge? Some people are definitely selfish because instead of trying to fight it they simply become part of the problem. Trying to get a share of what they think is theirs. If the world is going to be unfair then why not do whatever it takes to be a winner and not a loser? In recognizing that we are a cooperative species, to me the fight to making the world more fair is always worth it even if the goal is never achieved and feels like a continual uphill battle that sometimes gets steeper and not gentler. As a whole, we are simply better when we are working together to solve problems. Problems do arise, even ones not of our own making. Even ones that do arise because of our own making we can’t always blame ourselves, because hey nobody’s perfect and hindsight is 20/20 (at least we hope).
In this age of information and social media the amount of people that can be in contact with each other has expanded exponentially. As a result we see the vast array of opinions out there. Some people are clearly uneducated about the subject but seem very excited that they can say something and somebody will see it. Some people make comments simply to anger people and cause an outrage or what is known as being a troll and this has been a topic of much discussion lately. How we deal with people who make inflammatory comments or are very hostile towards the author of an article or another person commenting on a thread. Interestingly inflammatory comments that support the view of a particular piece is not seen as negative, only the person who disagrees. I would argue that if you read an article that say expresses a Democratic point of view and in the comments you say something like “Just another example that Republicans are pieces of shit” then you are just as bad as anybody you consider a troll in the ensuing comments.
Spurned by a few incidents in the recent past and also by this excellently written article about making better arguments in politics I wanted to express my thoughts about how we might be able to engage people we disagree with in a more meaningful way. The quote that starts this article is something that just struck me as the wisest words ever written when I read them and speaks to why if you like to debate and engage people with different points of view, why you are rarely successful.
The article that I linked in the previous paragraph talks about biases we have. For a very comprehensive look at our biases and beliefs I also strongly recommend reading the The Believing Brain by Michael Shermer. It’s a brilliantly constructed book and very educational. His argument is that we believe first and rationalize later. I think your immediate intuition sees the truth in that. Right now you might think well that’s what the other guy does, but if you are really honest with yourself you’d realize you do it too. It takes a lot of discipline to let your reasoning side take over, and suppress that “gut feeling” to believe what you think is right. As a result of this tendency to believe first and then rationalize those beliefs, when absorbing a new piece of information we tend to see it in a light that supports our beliefs rather than negate them.
Another bias we have that is the main part of the article is the self-serving bias. The idea that in order to protect our self-esteem or sense of self-worth we must reject ideas that make us feel like we are wrong about something. As the article says is we are wrong about one thing, then what else might we be wrong about, and then how do we deal with the idea of not being as smart as we think we are? This is why I think one of the most important human virtues we can have is humility as I wrote about in a previous blog post. Being wrong about something is a tough thing to deal with. What is strange to me is that I think we can all agree that we’ve experienced being wrong before. If you reflect on your life you’ll realize you actually got through it and you are actually okay. Nevertheless we still tend to not deal to well with it in the moment. Just like dealing with addiction, admitting you have a problem is the first step. 🙂 In this case, don’t worry because everybody has these biases and so everybody has this problem. So I would like to provide what I think is a helpful guide to getting people to see things from your point of view. And if right now you are asking, “Why should I listen to this guy?” Well because quit frankly I’m right dammit! 😉
Be the person you would like others to be
Don’t you hate it when someone is not sympathetic to you and the oppression or struggles you face? It makes you angry, it makes you not really like that person, and it makes you frustrated. So what should your response be? Most people seem to respond by being equally dismissive to others and their problems. What if, however, you tried to remain that sympathetic and compassionate person you hoped the other person would be? What if you said “I’m sorry you can’t understand how the incident made me feel, and even though I don’t know why you can’t be sympathetic to my struggles I sincerely hope that you never have to feel the way that I do right now.” If someone cannot demonstrate compassion for your genuine reason for being angry about something or being hurt about something, being afraid of something, or whatever is causing a negative emotion that is all the more reason to give sympathy towards them in return. Give them an example of what sympathy and empathy is all about. Maybe nobody has ever showed them any and so they literally don’t know it’s value or what it’s about. Maybe they had an ultra-chauvinistic father who never allowed them to show their feelings and were always told “Buck up and be a man you pussy!” Imagine growing up with that all your life. How much compassion would you have as an adult? Gandhi said “Be the change you’d like to see in the world” and so if you feel your worldview is superior in making this world a better place, make sure that you are genuinely being the type of person you would like to see in others.
Also haven’t you ever had someone in your life who you really respected because they seemed like a good person. You admired them. You wanted to be like them. You are more likely to cause a change in someone’s behavior by being a positive role model rather than someone who berates them for their ideas. Why would anyone want to be like someone who just belittles people for their beliefs even when those beliefs are misguided. Because to the person with those beliefs…well they believe it and thus think they are not misguided.
Make sure you have a good sense of self-worth
What’s this you say? I thought this was the problem. The article I linked actually talks about using daily affirmations to enhance your self-worth as being important in being able to face things that you might be wrong about so that there is no net loss in self-worth. I think the author glosses over this to almost make it seem like a trick you are using rather than genuinely building your self-worth. If you have low self-esteem it can be hard to debate or argue with someone in a constructive manner. Obviously if you barely value yourself, the few things that you do value about yourself, you will be even more afraid of losing. Building a true sense of self-worth takes time and experience. It takes an admission of your faults and the continual persistence to improve. It takes trying not make the same mistake twice, even if it sometimes happen. Practice humility, forgiveness, and spend time just observing and reflecting on those experiences before forming an opinion. Then learn about how other people experience the world and try to pick out the commonalities in your experience rather than focusing on the differences. Your self-worth will grow actually when you recognize that the world doesn’t revolve around you. Self-worth and self-centered are completely different but often get tangled.
Make sure you respect the self-worth of others
I’m not asking you to admit you’re wrong or say somebody else is right, but when you are humble and are willing to at least to consider the possibility that you might be at least partially wrong about your point of view, you will find that you move to a place of being inquisitive about where someone else’s point of view comes from. This will lead you to ask more questions to see where that person is coming from. It will help you get to know the person and that person now knows that you are interested in who they are, and are simply not just interested in making them feel like they are wrong. After all who wants to listen and take seriously someone who is only interested in pointing out how right they are, and how wrong you are? It doesn’t matter if you are actually right and that the other person is actually wrong. People have a lot of wrong ideas not because they choose to be wrong but because they have been conditioned in their environment to see the world differently.
Recently there has been a lot of arguments in social media about racism and reverse racism. What if someone is trying to advance the position that reverse-racism of blacks against whites is just as big of a problem as racism against black people? You can respond angrily, dismissively, you can throw out all sorts of data and you’ll probably notice this makes no difference whatsoever. What if instead you said “Hmmm…you know that hasn’t been my experience. Can you tell me what makes you think that way? Have you experienced racism as a white person? If you have I am really sorry about that because I have personally experienced racism as well. Maybe we could share our experiences. Because I know how much it hurts when someone assumes something about you based on the color of your skin.” In reality of that interaction with someone it doesn’t matter that as a whole blacks are not treated as equals and that white people do enjoy a position of privilege in society, because that person has simply been shaped by their experiences and their interpretation of those experience. Sometimes being able to see the big picture is also a position of privilege. It probably means you have had greater opportunities for education and slightly better income so that you have leisure time to explore a topic in more detail. Perhaps parents who were interested in different points of view, valued diversity, etc. Not everyone is lucky enough to have that. Showing respect for a person and their experiences that led them to what they think is true today, is a better way to be heard by that person. You might just tear down a few walls and find that you might not be that different at all.
Be willing to walk away
This seems pretty obvious. A common piece of advice told by parents who want their child to not get into a physical fight. It is true for fighting with words as well. If you are hitting a wall with someone and trying harder each time, you will probably find that the wall is only getting thicker and harder. You probably don’t even notice the tone of your dialogue change, but in my observation not just in other arguments I have watched, but when I’ve had a chance to look back at my own words I realized that the angrier I get, my logic gets worse and my tone becomes more inflammatory. Being a more experienced teacher I now have more experience in just watching people who have trouble learning. Being a good teacher is to find alternative ways in which someone can learn what you are saying and all those ways require patience and understanding. So I think I am better at it that I was, but one can always improve.
More importantly of course getting angry, frustrated, and stressed because someone simply doesn’t “get it” is no way to live life. It could be your inability to argue effectively, it could be your tone, and of course it could be completely and absolutely all their fault. So what? Maybe it is possible that they will simply never, ever agree with you so why waste your time and energy? If you really feel convinced that you could make your argument better, then don’t keep arguing maniacally, but step away and reflect. Pay less attention to the content of what you have said, but how you have said it. Look less at the content of what they have said but try to pay attention to the experiences that may have led them to that line of thinking and try starting again. The point is, if you feel yourself starting to get angry or frustrated, you should probably just stop. Because I guarantee that you will not only not win, but you will have to deal with an emotion that can quite honestly ruin your day.
True change takes time
Plenty of times in my life I have thought I have made no impact and sometimes weeks, months, or years later I see someone who has changed their position on something that they seemed so sure of in the past. Most teachers will have stories of students who they couldn’t motivate, were often at odds with, and felt sadness that they weren’t able to “reach” that student. Only to get an e-mail a year later with an apology, or a revelation from that student, saying that they realize now how their behavior was wrong and that they appreciate you for trying to motivate them and believing in them. Many times in the moment I have felt frustrated at being told I’m wrong about something. I might even argue my case further even if I am out of additional legs to stand on. Then I sit and think. I read some more. Realize that maybe something I read, or something somebody told me was wrong. Or perhaps I realized that I hadn’t looked at a previous experience in the right way, and that I hadn’t perhaps learned all the lessons from it I should have. Nowadays I try to let that person know that they were right about something and I was wrong. In the past when my own self-esteem wasn’t strong I was often too embarrassed to admit it to that person. That doesn’t mean that person didn’t have an effect on me. So it may seem like wishful thinking, but don’t ever think your exchange didn’t have any value at all. Because you never know. It may happen years down the road, or the change may be ever so slight but because it caused someone to look in a different direction, it sets them down a path of learning they never would have gone down before without you.
As a final thought I want to make it clear that I don’t pretend any of this is easy, or that I am the awesome person that I describe here. I HATE being wrong and in my experience most other people do too. Perhaps its because I have gotten older that the accumulation of things I have been wrong about has added up to such a proportion that it has humbled me. I don’t know. What we consider right and wrong however is a product of many things. A function of space and time. Perhaps instead of thinking of yourself as being wrong about something, think of it as “Maybe I don’t know everything there is to know about something. So maybe I’m not wrong, just not as right as I could be.” 🙂 Play nice and remember it’s a big sandbox. There is room for a lot more people in it than you think. 🙂