The Power of the Narrative

story

Hold on! I am going to cover a lot of ground in just a few words.

We all have our narrative, our story. That story forms a grid through which we witness events and develop opinions.

Our stories are very powerful as a means of communication. That’s why a good story trumps a cold, outright approach to making a point every time.

The narrative, as a grid, is loaded with tremendous influence, because it colors how we understand everything.

People find other people who understand them, or at least, interpret events in pretty much the same manner as they do. It’s comforting and affirming to hang with like-minded people. It reassures us that we are not the only ones who feel a certain way about things. We are not crazy, because there are others like us. We have a tribe. Tribes have a collective narrative.

We need a narrative, but there is a huge danger with exclusively embracing it as our grid. It closes us off to other perspectives. That’s unfortunate, because our narratives, and the greater tribal narratives always have huge blind spots. That’s why we need to venture outside of our tribal comfort zones and try to understand some other narratives.

While there are innumerable smaller tribes, we have allowed ourselves to be herded into two tribes, liberal and conservative. Both are polarizing and both are getting more extreme all of the time. Unfortunately, many observers believe our nation to be more divided than ever.

When the political and the religious are thrown into the cultural blender, and eventually they always are, the resultant concoction is something that reeks of self-righteousness and demonization of their opponents. Grace is always left out of the recipe, as is self-examination. Then the two mega tribes can adopt the language of religiosity for further support.

We have personal narratives, tribal narratives, and mega narratives, but there is also a prevailing narrative. The prevailing narrative is a tribal narrative that is embraced by the media, everything from cable news networks to tweets on Twitter.

This prevailing narrative is supported by individual narratives that capture our collective attention. They are ingrained in our minds by slogans and symbols that focus on lingering cultural sins that should have been corrected long ago.

Our cultural sensitivities are so heightened at these times that we zoom in one aspect of an issue, and never get around to a holistic discussion and action that actually improves people’s lives. Some aspects of the discussion are usually deemed off limits.

Our obsession with these societal sins is so uneven that it is bewildering.

  • A focus on unnecessary police violence and the need for better training is good, but what about focusing on the root causes of violence in our poorest communities?
  • Making smoking tobacco uncool because of its harmful effects on our health is great, but why is legalized marijuana and alcohol use so cool?
  • The outcry over Cecil, the lion’s death was spot on, but where is the outcry over selling aborted human baby parts?

Mega narratives turn us into pack animals, so that it is very difficult to survive as an individual with an opinion that does not align with a mega narrative or a prevailing narrative.

Granted, it’s really hard to think of somebody that we regarded as a threat to be a person who is really a lot like us, an individual who has his or her own narrative that has, unfortunately, been subdued to aligning with a mega narrative.

Photo Credit: umjanedoan Creative Commons

 

About Glenn

Glenn Hager is a blogger, newspaper columnist, and author of two books, An Irreligious Faith and Free Range Faith.
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