A Story About Stories

I’ve always been drawn to writing as it’s a creative way to tell stories.

Over the past few months I’ve done a lot of reading and research into story-telling, both from an historical perspective and as a means of making sense of the world around us.

We articulate life in narrative form. Telling ourselves stories via our thoughts, to give context to feelings and events as they unfold around us.

You are tired and you tell yourself that is because you woke up earlier than usual that morning, or walked a great distance that day.

Someone at work gossips about you being lazy and you tell yourself they are lying, or exaggerating that aspect of your personality, searching your memory for examples that demonstrate the opposite.

I’ve always loved telling stories. Probably because I often question the reality of the stories I tell myself, aware that my malignant mind can often distort things. I find comfort in having others interpret the often messy truths of who I am and how I see the world around me.

This is something I am working on changing.

I sadly feel like this reliance on others to affirm our stories as acceptable interpretations of life, is rife amongst young people. Fuelled by a new world, in which story telling is such a huge part of day to day life, (especially on social media). It’s a world in which we are bombarded with so many conflicting ideas and pieces of (mis)information, we are then faced with trying to work into the narratives we tell ourselves to make sense of the world.

What I mean by this is that we live in a world where anyone can publish an opinion online and call it information. If that person is influential enough or makes enough noise, their opinion can make its way into the collective consciousness as truth.

Often these opinion based truths find their way into popular culture. The narratives of the movies, television shows and books we consume impose the ideologies of their writers, specifically crafted to exemplify classic reflections of right and wrong, good and evil.

Though consciously we know that these works are fictitious, when we are repeatedly exposed to these moral absolutes we can’t help but start to use them as a measure of our own natures.

With the rapid growth of heavily edited and dramatized “reality” television shows, the lines between the real and idealised world are blurred even further.

I recently had a friend try out of a well-known reality television show in Australia. He made it through several rounds of the casting process, each time he asked if they had made a decision they replied with words to the effect of “we are still trying to put together the story we want.” This goes to show that these shows are far from reflections of reality. They are stories, filled with all the elements of a classical narrative such as heroes and villains, good triumphing over evil and, of course, love.

Using real people in supposed real life situations to act out the same narratives we see in works of fiction further strengthens the notion that these opinion based ideologies of the collective are moral absolutes.

When these opinions conflict with our own thoughts and feelings, yet appear to be aligned with the thoughts and feelings of everyone around us, we begin to question ourselves and our beliefs.

No one likes internal moral conflicts and our minds will go to any length to resolve them.

A simple way to do that is through story telling.

We can articulate an event or instance in which we adhered to a social norm, which contradicts our own beliefs and feelings, but affirms our status as a functioning member of society. Yay us!

Or, we can tell a story in which we acted in accordance with our conflicting beliefs, accompanied by a sound justification and hope that is accepted, thus restoring moral equilibrium. We are all different and your situation is obviously unique. Individualism is still in vogue after all.

The strong minded may simply tell themselves that story in the form of thought.

Perhaps some people might confide in a close friend or family member, who’s opinion they trust.

Or, thanks to social media, you can pitch these stories to the world and see what they have to say, assuming that more opinions are better and if more people agree or disagree they must be right.

This is a dangerous way to make sense of the world around you.

Social media is the wild west of human behaviour. We still don’t quite know how to function safely and smartly as part of this incredibly large, constantly connected online world.

We especially don’t know how to consume the information presented to us on there. Our minds are plagued by cognitive biases, which have been neurally wired as we evolved, to help us to survive and make sense of the real, tangible world around us.

Online these biases run rampant, assessing every piece of information presented with filters of comparison and judgement desperately trying to preserve our already fragile identities.

The dangers of searching for truth in a false world should seem pretty straight forward. Yet the allure of thousands of strangers telling us we are ok is tough to resist.

The opposite is true as well, when the fear of mass judgement causes people to hide their stories and bottle up their thoughts and feelings, terrified of the way the world may judge them.

The rapid dissemination of opinion is changing the way we tell, consume and use stories to construct our identities and figure out how to function in our modern world.

But seeing the world as a collection of stories has the power to reframe the way we share and consume information. The stories we tell ourselves, or others, are just that, stories.

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