Raoul Wieland examines the ways in which the stories we choose to tell affect the world around us.
Growing up, I was a story-vore. Yes, I consumed stories. Not literally, of course, but I did escape into them, so perhaps they consumed me. I loved going on imaginary adventures alongside my favorite characters. I felt the vastness of the sky when flying on dragons, began to bite my fingers as we entered a particularly sinister forest or would laugh at how asking a girl to dance could be awkward even in stories.
Stories also awakened the world around me and gave it a different hue. More colorful. Magical. I would marvel at birds and began to wonder why they were able to fly and I was not. Forests became places to explore; I wanted to be as brave as the characters in my stories. Girls, well, let’s just say that I danced more in stories than in ever did in reality.
Why do I write this? It occurs to me that our lives are nothing but stories and that stories have a powerful impact on us. I also recall reading that ‘a culture is a people enacting a story’. If we listen closely, we find revealed in those stories the particular relationship that we, the storytellers, have with our environment. Individual stories are part of the fabric that is our worldview. Stories, whether fictitious or true, spring forth from our values, believes, perceptions, dreams, imaginations or wishes, all of which are bound to our life experiences, which in turn are fundamentally shaped by our particular environment. The stories, then, that we tell ourselves are bound up in a feedback system whereby our lives find expression in stories which are in turn enacted by us.
When stories are repeated over and over again, they take root in our daily lives to be enacted, perpetuated and strengthened. At one point, they become a sort of conventional wisdom, a fundamental truth, or what David Foster Wallace calls ‘as water is for fish’.
I read somewhere that a goal upon which The Good Men Project was founded was to tell stories about men that ‘changed the writer and changed the reader’. I want to be part of this change.
Many of the stories that I see being enacted in everyday life, on the news, on the internet are stories of fear, anger, abuse, depression and division. I witness discrimination, misogyny, racism and struggle to come to terms with the reality of sexual assault and violence. I recognize that men in particular are the oppressor but that they too are vulnerable. I despair at how relationships have become tainted with mistrust and how cynicism is a staple food.
One of my favorite authors, Hermann Hesse, once wrote that ‘Who would be born must first destroy a world’. Let us recognize that the world we have is a consequences of a particular set of dominating stories that are being enacted over and over again. What is rape culture but a situation where the attitudes and actions of a society excuse, normalize, and trivialize rape and in doing so make violence against women more acceptable?
To be born anew and give birth to a new world, let us then not tell stories that normalize or trivialize the violence, hate or division in our society. Collectively, let us tell stories of compassion, love, hope and collaboration. Let us not forget, however, that much brokenness and despair exists and that these stories, as much as any other, will be needed, as we come to terms with and affect change in, our everyday reality.
Photo: Flickr/Ron Sela