“We tell ourselves stories in order to live… we look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the “ideas” with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.” – Joan Didion, The White Album
I thought this quote was so interesting. It essentially breaks the human mind down to its most persistent challenge: making sense of the world around us. Finding (or creating) meaning for something completely inexplicable. Whether it is a gruesome crime, political decision, or the way our significant other acts in a passing moment. In life, we’re often only given points, never the whole picture. It’s up to us to connect the dots, creating a recognizable pattern and discernible image. We crave what we understand. Because that which we understand is familiar. Familiar is safe. When we are unable to connect the dots or someone connects them in a different way, we lock up and our brains reject it. So much of our lives are dictated by the stories we tell ourselves to digest the chaos around us. By our very nature, we are creatures of narrative.
Once this narrative is constructed, we begin to weave it into core beliefs that eventually shape our personality. And over time we become kings and queens of our own, separate realities. We bend over backwards, flex our imaginations, and distort our justifications to maintain that reality. Our brain becomes conditioned to maintain order at all costs. Without it, what are we? Without those pillars of belief that hold the roof up (religion, politics, morality, whether or not pineapple belongs on pizza) we would be exposed. Exposed to what? Manipulation? A new and healthy perspective?
What I have learned, from my relatively brief stint in existence, is that most people choose to live safely within their own narrative rather than opening their minds. I get it, vulnerability is uncomfortable. But for one second, entertain the idea that your narrative is, not wrong, but simply different. Remind yourself that just because someone says something that upsets you, that they may be speaking safely from the throne of their reality, uncomfortable with idea of stepping into yours.
This is not to say that we should be without conviction. It’s important to believe in something, to stand for what you think is right. Where this gets tricky is when you attempt to use your beliefs to deliberately change someone else’s. What happens when two realities collide?
Well, often times, nothing. No one will budge. They won’t even overlap. And the harder one side tries to convince the other that their reality is the real one, the further away and more “real” they both appear to their respective inhabitant. This impasse almost seems like an inevitability. Eventually we all reach a line we are unwilling to cross. A single idea that proves too threatening to our reality, too disruptive to our narrative.
Can you imagine being told by someone, with 100% certainty, that sky is red and not blue? You’d laugh in their face and point up rather than consider the fact they may be colorblind.
So how on Earth are we supposed to convince someone of something that they believe the opposite of? How do we get someone to doubt their reality, let alone deviate from it? How do you change truth when it’s relative? Is there such a thing as right and wrong when no one can agree on which is which? It’s an interesting rabbit hole.
Though these questions may be somewhat unanswerable, I think it may be prudent to at least go about your days with a sense of conscious contentment. Yes, stand up for yourself and fight for what you believe in. But remain cognizant that your reality is a drop of water in a very subjective ocean. Pick your battles. If you feel there is common ground to be had, pursue a mutual understanding. But also know when to let it go.
I really wanted to end this on an optimistic note but the fact of the matter is, people and change go together like toothpaste and orange juice.