About the key role stories play in our world and how we can counter the potential damage their misuse might cause.
Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
The following short text was inspired by writing The Boy in the Book (to be published soon) which explores a world where it is possible to modify reality by intervening in the stories we tell.
Being trapped in a story
Stories can be engrossing, transporting you to another place with other people. It’s part of what they do best. Who hasn’t been carried away by a story? Yet what happens if you are trapped in a story, unable to remember who or what you are, unable to break free, bound by a role and a storyline that constrain you to be what you are not and do what you don’t wish to do? Imagine how terrifying and exasperating that would be if you retained the slightest memory of who you were before or who you wish to be.
From reader to teller: dictating stories
Stories are dictated by their teller. You as a reader or a listener have no power to change them, lest it be in imagined details. But what would happen if you could change the stories you read? Surely that wouldn’t matter. After all, who’s to know you’ve changed something. No one else will read your version. In a way, it becomes yours. It’s only in the confrontation with the stories of others, stories that concern you too, that things can get difficult. If we draw back and consider all life as a complex web of individual and collective stories, then re-writing stories reaches way beyond the novelistic to become political, societal and historical.
The power of stories to do ill
All that may sound hypothetical, the kind of speculation you’d expect from someone who writes fantasy novels. But is it? Stories are the lifeblood of our understanding of the world. They traverse and guide all our choices, but also underlie our difficulties. Much of the conflict in the world, whether it be in a couple or between nations, is a clash between stories people tell. You only have to look at the current conflicts around the globe. What story is Putin telling himself and others to justify his attempted annexation of Ukraine? What story are Trump and his supporters telling themselves to justify their violent undermining of reality? What unlikely stories are Truss and her Chancellor telling themselves to have them believe that by giving to the rich they are enriching the poor? It might be tempting to want to banish stories. But that would not only wreak havoc but would also be extremely dangerous, if not impossible.
An initial remedy
So, if stories cannot be silenced, yet remain a source of so much damage, what possible solutions do we have to mitigate the harm. The short term answer is two pronged. 1) Become more aware of the role stories play in our lives, an awareness that brings a minimum of distance. 2) Compare our stories with others, not with a view to imposing our version, but in a desire to explore and understand differences.