The stories we tell ourselves

We’re children really, we humans. We want the comforting boundaries of an imagined world served up to us. It’s what enables us to feel secure some might argue; that’s true. But just as true is that the stories we tell ourselves become limits to possibility, new ideas, or ways of being.

Ask yourself: is capitalism innate to human nature or has it shaped what we think of as our essential ‘human nature’?

What was the last luxury item you bought, and why? Had you seen an advertisement for it before buying it? Did you research the purchase online to get the best price?

Be honest in your response.

I’d bet that you experienced or did all of that, no matter how unwittingly.

Perhaps you think you bought a new car because the old one was beyond repair, outdated or too polluting. Whatever the reason, your decision to buy a particular type of new car was almost certainly influenced by some kind of ‘advertising’.

Here’s another example. A gossip starts a rumour about someone. Everyone who hears it, while sincerely saying they don’t listen or act in accordance with gossip will, no matter how subconsciously, proceed to fill in the gaps and ascribe every hithero ‘normal’ behaviour or action by the person who has been gossiped about with the poison of the rumour.

Our brains look for a story to make sense of experiences or decisions. For humankind, meaning starts in the brain.

So, which story are you listening to?

Just as we think of ‘home‘ as a place of refuge, so stories become our comfort blanket.

In communities just as the concept of the ‘village’ may provide comfort to some, it also becomes an exclusionary device designed to keep others out.

That car you bought may be less polluting, but it’s still polluting. And even though we know that the combustion engine is poisoning each and every one of us, we still make and buy the things.

The story we may tell ourselves to justify the purchase becomes our talisman against the incovenient truth; it makes sense of it.

Each individual life contains a heterogeneous compilation of stories. If you reduce people to one story, you’re stripping them of their humanity.

Politics has become increasingly prone to a single story; every problem can be solved by finding a group to blame. For example, economic woes aren’t because of intricate structural problems, go these stories, they’re because of criminal and feckless [insert name of demonised group here] stealing our [insert relevant gripe here].

In a national context, those stories create a national identity framed in a kind of ‘opposition’ to the target groups, perpetuating an ‘us and them’ dynamic.

That’s why reactions to looking critically at history are as visceral as they are. What is history after all, except the story we have been told of our origins.

Stories are a powerful source of self-persuasion, even if they are highly internally consistent. And they are inconsistent because evidence that doesn’t fit the story is usually left behind.

Accepting that we may be wrong about some hitherto certain ‘truths’, we can turn once again to the question at the start of this journey … is capitalism innate to human nature or has it shaped what we think of as our essential ‘human nature’?

Have you considered that perhaps capitalism is the story we tell ourselves to the exclusion of other stories which might offer a way out of the chaos we’re in? And perhaps as the desire by capital to grow, enriching those already rich while impoverishing those already poor, is what is driving the chaos and segmentation of our societies, communities and cultures.

No matter the story you’ve told yourself, you can’t deny that the world is chaotic.

Perhaps that’s why we’re all thinking deeper thoughts, meditating, or taking time out from the rat race. Because that journey into the inner self is where the divisive money making algorithm can’t touch us.

But one day, the axe will fall. And we cannot passively stand by, or be so deep in meditation that we fail to see it coming.

By all means, let’s tell ourselves the stories about the environment and communities which point a path towards repair and renewal, change and real inclusivity. But most of all, let’s make the change.