There are so many kinds of conflict in our world. Battles. Wars. Causes. Crusades. Protests. Struggles over faith, politics, money, ideas. We're either in the middle of these battles or we hear about them on the news.
There's another struggle that takes place all over our world on a daily basis, a struggle that might just be at the root of all of the others. But it’s a struggle that’s invisible to most of us most of the time.
It’s the war between stories.
Let’s say I’ve grown up with a story about how your people are my people’s enemies. If I’ve heard this story all my life I’m likely to believe in it without question. To believe that it is the way things really are. I’m not likely to even be aware that it’s a story. That is, a constructed narrative that selects certain details and omits others. A tale. A fiction. And you may live by a similar story, only in yours, my people are the bad guys.
Some of these stories have been told to us since we were infants. About who we are and how the world is, and what's important. Or they’re stories we’ve told ourselves about the way things are. The way we are.
We think and act by way of these stories. Every faith, creed, and political system, whatever else it is, is also a collection of well-polished stories. My own life history, my identity, is a collection of stories I call memories. We cling to our stories because they give the chaos of the world shape. They provide the security of meaning. They have the comfort of a beginning, a middle, and very often an end. Or the stories cling to us because we’ve told them to ourselves so many times they become our default script (I’m too fat. Life's not fair. I don't deserve to be happy.)
Inevitably, however, we’re bound to run up against other stories that tell the world differently from ours. The sharp edges of someone else’s story poke through the well-constructed walls of ours, threatening its integrity. And the conflict begins.
We really need new stories on this planet. Including a story about how we live by stories, and how we might step outside them and see the world differently.
Illustration by T Wharton