“We tell ourselves stories in order to live”

story-book-lettersThere are few things better or more powerful in this world than a good story. The human capacities of communication, creativity and meaning-making allow for the transmission of individual narratives to be collectively experienced through the similarly remarkable capacities of empathy, identification and mirroring. These gifts can certainly be abused when directed in the service of hate or fear, but I am interested at the moment in the positive potential of the process when it invokes feelings of love and communion through the shared experience and recognition of beinghood. Emmanuel Levinas argued that what emerges through this intersubjective face-to-face encounter with the Other provides the basis for ethics, or as he pithily put it, “For others, in spite of myself, from myself.”

That every one of us can both tell and receive stories is a remarkable proposition. We each carry our own personal story and the longer our hearts beat, the more our stories integrate knowledge and experience, hopefully resulting in wisdom. Yet within the Cartesian paradigm, now manifesting through the hegemony of neoliberal capitalism, far too often the voices of wisdom are silenced by the privileged beneficiaries of the current system, who cloak their own self-interested rhetoric in the veneer of logic and rationality. Through the institutions at their disposal, they impose their worldview on others, coercing adaptation and assimilation. For the purposes of this piece, my concern here is how this worldview denies the validity of subjectivity, intersubjectivity and interiority, except when it can be commodified, tokenized or otherwise rendered impotent. Such is its insinuation in our lives that even disciplines dedicated to interiority, such as psychology, more often than not constitute colonized terrain.

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