A story begins “Once upon a time” or “This ain’t no bulls.” Spellbound or skeptical, we are taken on a journey into hopes or the frustration of a people whose belief in their country and themselves is being renewed or severely challenged. As the story unfurls, facts, like fish tales, may get elastic, bending of light approach incredulity, cows grow wings and dish run away with spoons, to the extent that one wonders whether a flight of fancy is being indulged or an alternate reality is being created.
Vain imaginations, half-truths and damn lies make a story unwieldy and more difficult to reconcile with images of ourselves. Indeed, a refuge from a narrative that is unflattering provides, “you are entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts”. Useful caution, for sure, but that should not blind us to this inescapable truth: the status quo, a blessing for some is not only a nightmare for others, it is the presumed cause. Hope and hurt are not necessarily antagonistic or a zero sum game, but they are bruising combatants.
Long before the first heart that felt the compelling tug of “Twinkle twinkle little star,” confronted the misperceptions that turned deadly for Cain and Abel, we have been telling stories and struggling to create a less anxious tomorrow and empower ourselves to redefine harmony and move the impossible to the improbable and against odds and credulity, make them nonchalant and routine.
Who tells the story may make it compelling and hence more believable, but a rich cooperation`s thumb on the scale can hold an economy to ransom and distortion. Similarly, a drug enforcer can hold a community hostage, foster an “informers will die – don’t snitch,” culture.
These are not benign activities that care who tells, or whether one chooses to listen, blocks out the story teller, or nitpick which part of the story we embrace. For the narrative is not so much about our capacity to travel far beyond galaxies or capture markets. It’s about recognizing our shortfalls and compromising short sightedness that harms or cause our brothers to stumble. We bring these breathtaking stories to the fore to disturb our acceptance of mediocrity and injustice.
The storyteller may not be the one to whom an epiphany happened, conflict of interest aside. Indeed, “make” a man who is struggling with his confidence and his circumstances mad, even as he tells his story, and you can confidently watch him implode – a contributor to his own demise. That too, is part of the story. Not so much the man, but the man separated from his confidence and its consequence for tragedy. Motive and strategy may become apparent later and be dissected upon analysis, but often the hopelessness and futility with which some people wrestle is not apparent until the panic – that space in a man`s mind where despair emboldens him to go rouge – cause us to mourn. We tell stories because a man separated from his confidence is a recipe for disaster.
In the countless tragedies we encounter, from a citizen protecting his community, a police fearing a threat to life, a minority feeling victimized or a mentally ill person mowing down kids and teachers, the question we ask shouldn’t be about if the person resisted arrest or was a contributor to his own demise, but rather how do we reassure folks to whom we have an unbreakable obligation that their concern about justice, medical anxieties and fairness and security is not without merit.
As the story is told, defenders of the status quo, rebels without a cause and visionaries must compete for the heart and hence the directions we move in and give transparency a chance to make us proud, even as it alert us to the rule of law and its limits, especially to a man who sees himself as a victim. At the heart of a story is a crisis threatening to become a runaway train. But, on calmer inspection, a crisis is not so much what is, but our anxieties and insecurities exposed and our frantic response: a grasping for a narrative that is reassuring.
These stories we tell, and hence our concerns for accuracy and believability, is a reflection of who we are and how we want to be seen. We know there are gaps in the story and that the narrator has taken liberties with our unresolved dilemmas both in fact and attitude towards our views about a glorious yesterday, our place in it and a tomorrow that we are already struggling to control.
The truth of a story is the part that says, “I swear to God” and strives to create the conditions where a man’s confidence can be restored to the point where he “lives happily ever after.”
Peter Peterkin, Readers Bureau, Fellow
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