Stories: The Means By Which We Navigate The World
Oct 11th, 2017
George Monbiot, writing for The Guardian, asks: How Do We Get Out of this Mess?
Donald Trump. North Korea. Hurricanes. Neoliberalism. Is there any hope of a better world? Yes, but we have to come together to tell a new, kinder story explaining who we are, and how we should live.
#storytelling trends well these days. Everyone understands that to market your business or push a political agenda you need to tell a better story. Compile your message into a functioning narrative, and you guarantee the highest amount of success.
And writing a complete story guarantees a successful broadcast of that message.
Stories are the means by which we navigate the world. They allow us to interpret its complex and contradictory signals. We all possess a narrative instinct: an innate disposition to listen for an account of who we are and where we stand.
Stories reflect the way we think and solve problems. We don’t possess an instinct for narrative—narrative mimics our innate disposition for meaning.
Unlike hard drives or RAM, our minds suck at remembering and stand unreliable at best when it comes to reality. We perceive the world through filters built upon justifications and then store that information away as truth. This rationale then become the motivation to seek out further alternate realities, the justifications pile up, and the cycle continues.
A complete story simulates the process of building up those justifications or tearing them down. A Steadfast Main Character reflects the former while a Changed Main Character imitates the latter. William Wallace in Braveheart and Robert Angier in The Prestige build up the rationale for their behaviors. Chiron in Moonlight and Chris Washington in Get Out tear those justifications down until they arrive at a point where they can change their point-of-view.
When we encounter a complex issue and try to understand it, what we look for is not consistent and reliable facts but a consistent and comprehensible story. When we ask ourselves whether something “makes sense”, the “sense” we seek is not rationality, as scientists and philosophers perceive it, but narrative fidelity. Does what we are hearing reflect the way we expect humans and the world to behave? Does it hang together? Does it progress as stories should progress?
Narrative fidelity is a fantastic term. A better way to reframe those questions is to ask Does what we hear ring true with our mind’s problem-solving process? If the answer is no, then we will “sense” or feel a hole in the narrative. When the answer is yes, we appreciate the full intent behind the message—without static, and without interference.
Making a difference in the quality of storytelling requires a greater understanding of the mechanism by which a story progresses.
Only then can you make a difference in the world.