Humans are fundamentally storytelling creatures. The stories we tell ourselves deeply shape every bit of our perception of what is happening in the present and what is possible for the future. Story is not different in kind than truth or objectivity; story is the recognition that every word we speak and every concept we are capable of forming only exists to the extent that it is spoken in acceptance or rejection of the forms of thought that have been given to us. The more compelling the story, the more willing we are to give our lives to it. The more coherent the story, the more we are able to find peace through participating in that story.
What marks modern American culture more deeply than any other decision or division or factor is the radical rejection of any story that is not the individual’s own. But without an appreciation for the stories that wrote us, we will never be able to understand who we are or how we have come to be capable of experiencing the stories of others and the effects of those stories upon the self. If we don’t make explicit the story we are writing with our lives and how that story comes out of the stories that write us, we will never become more than the incoherent, fearful, aimless jumbles of anxiety that we are right now.
He wins and will continue to win for as long as he continues to tell a better story than the alternative. Stories based on fear and other-ing touch a deeply human nerve that tells the story of danger in the unknown. Fear is such a primal part of the human experience that its stories can hijack any of us in the blink of an eye. To build a sweeping narrative upon fear at every turn – fear of the other, fear of change, fear of losing influence or wealth, fear of anything or anyone that doesn’t think or talk or act like me – is necessarily going to guide our hearts toward violence.
Facts and figures are powerless in the face of such a compelling story for the storytelling creatures we are. Even the stories of an individual here and there have no power to counteract the primal force of his story of fear. We humans don’t care about whether the facts back up his story. We may think facts matter but emotions respond long before we have the chance to ‘decide’ what we think about the details. We view the world and it’s facts through the dominant story until its foundation is so fundamentally shaken that we have to jump to a new story.
The only way to counteract his story is to find a more compelling story that offers a new foundation. For too long, we have forsaken the art of storytelling because of all the ways it has gone wrong. To begin telling a story that stretches beyond the self is to risk the subjugation of that which makes each of us unique and beautiful – imperialism, colonialism, and racism are deeply problematic stories that have developed precisely out of the desire to tell a communal story. The more common response has been to reject the notion of a communal story altogether. But to reject such a story is to reject the only means we could have of establishing a peace that creates the space for coherence amidst our differences and a sum that is more than its parts.
Until we can offer a more compelling story and an invitation to embody that story together, the primal story of fear will continue to win out. Far too many of us may never outright act in hate, but instead devolve into practical atheism through the refusal to wake up and see the reality our brothers and sisters both face and create. Until a more compelling story is told and invitation given, there will never be anything more than multiple competing interests, vying for authority and influence. Until we learn to take seriously the stories that wrote us and the stories we are trying to write, we will never have the language to even combat, much less defeat, his (or the next) story of fear.
To tell such a story starts with learning the art of listening. Listen to the stories of our neighbors. Listen to the stories of our enemies. Listen to the stories of everyone who is willing to share what is beneath the words of the stories we hide behind. Once we have deeply and truly listened, then we will find the space in which love is possible. Once love is present, we will find the space in which it is possible to name and embrace the story we share. Until we learn to tell that story with our lives and relationships, we are never more than one step removed from fear dictating the story of our lives.