Whether or not we choose to acknowledge it, or are even consciously aware of it, our lives are often influenced, if not governed, by “The Narrative.” So what exactly is the Narrative?
In short, the Narrative is the set of beliefs, assumptions, pre-conceptions and myths that we choose, individually, collectively and institutionally, to give shape to how we perceive the world. It’s the filter or prism through which we consciously and sub-consciously view our role as players on this temporal stage, and how we more often than not rise to or simply settle for the expectations and limitations imposed upon us.
The Narrative is most certainly subjective; it can contain truths, so far as we understand them, but it also may contain lies, deceptions, distortions and disinformation. At times it may serve us, while at other times it destroys us. If we never challenge it, it remains indifferent; the moment we hold its gaze too long, it rears its head and we’re faced with either challenging and subverting it, if not defeating it, or submitting to its raw power.
THE PERSONAL NARRATIVE
It is the rare individual that never suffers from self-doubt or feelings of recrimination, particularly when things don’t seem to be working out as planned or desired. It’s easy to fall victim to the pessimistic internal voice that can be self-defeating and self-limiting if given free rein, which is why so many motivational speakers, philosophers and others who dispense their wisdom emphasize the need to remain positive and optimistic no matter the circumstances, because ultimately every moment is transitory and, “This too shall pass.”
By becoming self-aware, we are better able to counter-act and balance our personal Narrative when it turns overly pessimistic, and by the same token, we can remain humble and grateful when the other extreme strikes and we tend towards over-confidence, hubris and arrogance and believe that our current success is either “owed” to us or solely the creation of our own greatness and genius.
The early Romans of the Republic Period understood this when they awarded a victorious military commander a “triumph” and allowed him to ride through Rome on a chariot to the adoration of the masses. Tradition stated that the triumphant general would have a slave accompanying him in the chariot, constantly whispering the refrain, “Remember that you are mortal” lest the magnitude of the rare honor lead to behavior not conducive to the Senate’s rule.
Ultimately, as individuals we must not allow the personal Narrative to limit our potential, nor should we allow it to justify behavior which ultimately reflects poorly on ourselves. If we are inclined to see ourselves as “extraordinary” and capable of making lasting contributions to the world around us, it is up to us to live up to that standard and realize this potential. Conversely, I would urge those that see themselves in a different light, and who feel their gifts or abilities are meager or poor to realize that their potential to impact the world in a positive manner is far greater than they imagine. They just need to get out of their own way.
THE COLLECTIVE NARRATIVE
The collective Narrative can be found at both an institutional and societal level. Like the billions of personal Narratives found on this planet, it is rife with half-truths, closely held beliefs rooted in unquestioned assumptions, and other detritus and noise which often obscures objectivity and rational analysis. It can be found in our incessant need to compete and win at all costs, to prove the status or establish the dominance of the institution or society in question as “better” than those around it, as more evolved, or compassionate or enlightened, or whatever.
That’s not to say that competition is inherently bad, or that all forms of governance or leadership or moral values are equal. They’re not.
Freedom always trumps servitude. Compassion always trumps antipathy and indifference. But blind allegiance and unquestioning loyalty to any man-made institution, dogma or social construct is a dangerous path. The tendency to buy into “Groupthink” without applying any critical thought or checks and balances often leads to disastrous consequences. Human history is littered with examples of this.
We cherish myths because they speak to closely held desires. Myths are often rooted deep in universal psychological themes or motifs, and some perhaps hold kernels of truth around which much “color” has been added through generations of storytelling. So too goes the Narrative.
Yet just as we cannot and should not allow our personal Narrative to go unchallenged, we cannot and should not buy into the larger Narrative without continuous introspection and contemplation. The Narrative may have a spine upon which it hinges, yet it constantly evolves despite the fact that it is not sentient. It feeds upon the energy invested in it. It is constantly becoming…
Never discount the power of the individual to change the Narrative, for better or worse.