As we approach the mid-terms, more than one commentator has framed the key question as “who controls the narrative.” One might think that the key questions are about such issues as rising inflation, saving our democracy, immigration, voting rights, or government control of women’s lives. Are narratives more important?
For those who know the truth, narratives may not seem important. Still, one should remember that while the truth might well set you free, what the truth means resides in its story. After all, the early Christian church needed four narratives of Jesus’s life to clarify the meaning of the gospel.
To tell the truth about the United States, four stories are probably not enough. I used to ask my students to write a one-page story of the United States. You might try it sometime. They wrote stories of early migrations from Asia, European conquest, Westward expansion, technological developments, wars and more wars, enslavement of millions, writing the Constitution, and more. I said that all the stories were true, but some were more helpful than others in creating our future.
During a visit this past summer to Vienna, Austria, we visited the Hundertwasser Museum, where I found one saying that I particularly liked:
If we do not honour our past, we lose our future.
If we destroy our roots, we cannot grow.
As you probably know, I don’t think we can grow—grow up I would say—until we change our social climate to a climate of justice. Let’s face it, our “roots” are entangled in and will grow out of the 400-year relationships among the undeserved misery and the unearned prosperity of “We, the People.” We will not grow up until we straighten out these roots, which will entail reconciliation, reparations, and restoration.
Some don’t want us to grow up. They like the idea of patriarchy. If they control the narrative, which means prohibiting others from telling their stories, we will all suffer and so will the planet.
We must be careful in discerning what storytellers assume about their listeners. Do they want us to become “true believers,” or appreciative inquirers? Do they help us acknowledge the limits of the Earth? Do their stories invite us to have empathy for the vulnerable? Do they, in some small way, encourage us to move toward a climate of justice?