Saturday, May 5, 2012

Storytelling and the Meaning of Life (2 of 2)

Rodin's "Walking Man" at Stanford

Telling Great Stories

Learning to tell a good story is perhaps the most challenging and most important thing that can occupy our species. We are ever persuaded to add this or that perspective. And, most of us weary and unthinking, do. But what kind of story do we want to tell our grandchildren? Certainly we want it to include virtue, courage and kindness, loyalty and love. Adventure and romance also should find a part. But how often do we make our decisions with aesthetics in mind? How often do we consider our own decisions as an author considers those of his hero? Do we live the kind of romance that makes it into sonnets and plays? It’s like we’re in a movie and we don’t realize the cameras are rolling, having missed the director shout “Action!” Henry V goads his men to courage by reminding them that their heroism will make a great and oft repeated story: 
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say “To-morrow is Saint Crispian.”
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say “These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.”
As a society and as individuals, we have failed to answer the question, “What is the meaning of life?” Douglas Adams answers sarcastically, “42”. Apple’s question-answering program Siri (sometimes) answers the question, “Try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try to live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.” Would Troy have fallen, Odysseus sailed or Aeneas founded Rome with a “be nice to people” script? Would Julius have crossed the Rubicon, Washington the Deleware, or Eisenhower the English Channel if their stories were about living together in “peace and harmony”? This is the question facing us every day. And, in the immortal words of Rush “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” If we wake up without answering it for ourselves, we let our bosses or governments or societies answer for us. Why do you go to work on Monday morning? Why do you drink on Friday night? Why do you do anything?

Who is telling your story?

If you do not have a clear answer, you will be at the mercy of every wind of fancy in politics, economics or religion. Your self-confidence will be at the mercy of every boss, supervisor, racial majority, or whomever else happens to presume power. The conflicts in the story will lead to anxiety and depression at best, and calm slavery at worst. The stronger your story, and the louder your voice, the more resistant you will be to tyrants. And so, in retrospect, I am glad that I discovered my weakness. I am glad that I remembered my own story and learned to tell it in the face of an alternative version. I hope that others would do likewise.

<-- Back to Part I - My Hijacked Story

1 comment:

  1. Telling ourselves the Gospel- in the midst of the war against sin and the fight for faith- is yet another way of remembering what story we have become a part of. In this way we remember who we are through our confidence in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, no longer blind but alive and alert.

    Hope you're well Dave! I was looking for a good review of the Hunger Games and remembered you had written about it.