It’s Time to Start Telling AND Stories
In this morning’s New York Times, Dan Barry writes an op-ed piece about the White House incumbent. He postulates that all the acting-out, all the shenanigans, all the manipulation is in service to the one word 45 fears most. Loser.
A former employee comments, “‘The first thing he calls someone who has wronged him is a loser,’ said Jack O’Donnell, who ran an Atlantic City casino for Mr. Trump in the 1980s. ‘That’s his main attack word. The worst thing in his world would be to be a loser. To avoid being called a loser, he will do or say anything.’”
The press — and certainly the people I know — has done a lot of exploring and explaining why Mr. Trump behaves the way he has. I find that I tire of it. How about you?
Here’s his own explanation. “‘Winning is a very important thing. The most important aspect of leadership is winning. If you have a record of winning, people are going to follow you.”
Mr. Barry elucidates, “Such behavior by the president reflects a binary-code approach to life that spares no room for nuance or complication. If a person isn’t a one, then that person is a zero.
“‘You are either a winner or a loser,’ Michael D. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, said in an interview last week. ‘Reality is secondary. It is all about perception.’”
By no mistake, there is a wild and magical truth hidden in Mr. Cohen’s words. No wonder the esoteric is often cited as arcane. I’d recast the words to reveal their real meaning. Reality is all about perception. Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson said it more eloquently, “Perception is one hundred percent of reality.”
That statement is a literal fact. How we perceive reality — which means how we tell our stories about it — deeply influences how we experience reality. I might even go so far as to say that it is the only way we experience reality — through the stories we tell ourselves and others about it.
Truth? We’ve been telling the or stories, the binary stories, the reductionist, with no-room-for- nuance-or-complication stories for too long.
This week’s Modern Love column is by by C Pam Zhang, who writes, “There was a kind of solace in the stark language of ‘good’ and ‘bad.’”
She’s right. There is a kind of solace in that binary. Once the determination of good or bad is made, it makes reality feel done, and settled, and set, doesn’t it? We cannot afford the luxury of just such an uncomplicated characterization anymore.
Opinion Columnist David Brooks writes this morning about what his headline calls the rotting of the Republican mind. “People in this precarious state are going to demand stories that will both explain their distrust back to them and also enclose them within a safe community of believers. The evangelists of distrust, from Donald Trump to Alex Jones to the followers of QAnon, rose up to give them those stories and provide that community. Paradoxically, conspiracy theories have become the most effective community bonding mechanisms of the 21st century.”
Now there’s a spooky explanation. Sadly, it’s true. Our or stories have risen up to bite us on our collective Achilles’ tendon. And we have found we are vulnerable.
Here is Will Wilkinson, Contributing Opinion Writer, on the same issue. “Until the mind-bending spell of polarization breaks, everything that matters will be fiercely disputed and even the most egregious failures will continue to go unpunished.”
Polarization — polarity taken to its furthest extent — is most definitely an evil spell, but, Beloved, polarity in itself is not. Polarity [translation: our differences] is what makes the fabric of our collective reality so rich. Never mind that polarity is a foundational principle of physics, and immutable.
There is a path to resolve this, Beloved. David Brooks thinks it involves rebuilding trust. He says, “Rebuilding trust is, obviously, the work of a generation.” I disagree with Mr. Brooks. Oh, not with what he says. In that he is correct. I disagree with his goal. Rebuilding trust is not what is needed. In fact, the resurrection of trust will come as a by-product of what’s needed.
Strangely, Opinion Columnist Paul Krugman, the economist who speaks economics in comprehensible bites, at least to me, points the way in his piece this morning on the new Secretary of the Treasury, Janet Yellen.
He maintains that her work rests upon a neo-Keynesian idea that “people aren’t stupid, but they aren’t perfectly rational and self-interested” either. He maintains, “But [Janet Yellen] also never forgot that economics is about people, who aren’t the emotionless, hyperrational calculating machines economists sometimes wish they were.” I’d add politicians, too.
I’ve heard person after person lament their own variations on the helplessness that undergirds despair during this election season and its aftermath. There’s a solution staring us all in the face.
First, yes, we need to learn to trust again, but that’s too tall an order.
Instead, first, start to pay attention to how you’re telling your own stories about your life.
Are you in poor me mode? Are you in either/or mode? Are you making things worse by how you’re telling your own stories?
Good. Change the way you’re talking about reality.
Try choosing the I am so blessed mode. Tell your stories to prove what’s right about the world and not what’s wrong about it. Consider the both/and mode. Ask: how am I making things better by how I am telling my own stories?
Beloved, look closely at your reality. Look for nuance, for complication, for the richness that imbues our culture of fascinating differences on its foundation of fundamental similarities. Begin to tell the stories that celebrate all the wondrous small details that make up the joy of being alive here on green marble Earth. It’s time to tell the and stories.
When we do, and when we do it consistently, we will live ourselves into the trust that is the glue for any social contract we might choose. And then, of course, everybody wins.
Dr. Susan Corso is a spiritual teacher, the founder of iAmpersand, and the author of The Mex Mysteries, the Boots & Boas Books, and spiritual nonfiction. Her website is susancorso.com.