The Narrative is Problematic
May 14, 2023 | 376 words | Philosophy, Politics
Which narrative is problematic, you may be asking… Every narrative, I would answer.
It is natural to assemble a story for ourselves that helps explain how and why things happen in this world. Along the way we encounter others who seem knowledgeable in these matters, and we add their understanding to our own. As we get older, our narrative emphasizes what has gone wrong out there, and what should be done to fix all the problems. This, too, is natural.
But there is a tendency to overcommit to a particular narrative, once we settle on a story that suits us. The very thing that starts out helping us discern the larger world can end up getting in the way of our understanding that world even better. Such as learning to appreciate all the component parts of a particular controversy. We get seduced, if you will, by the certainty a narrative can offer. Regardless of how reasonable/unreasonable a given narrative may seem to the casual observer, there is no denying it provides a degree of certitude for the person who embraces it.
This is reassuring, even when it leaves the bearer thoroughly annoyed or frustrated. My point is that instead of settling for this type of certainty, we should always be forging ahead on a quest for wisdom.
“Narrative” as I am using the term is inherently partisan. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, since every partisan narrative contains an element of truth. No matter how vehemently we disagree with an opponent’s initial premise, there is still some truth hidden in amongst what strikes us as his or her error.
Yes, some narratives do contain more truth than others, and therefore deserve more attention. But no narrative tells the whole story. No narrative is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
Each of us has adopted a preferred narrative we are comfortable with, that we proudly march behind as our banner. And every single one of those narratives is problematic. Because they ultimately prevent us from a deeper understanding of the world and of our fellow citizens. Developing the deeper understanding I have in mind would result in our being much more forgiving than most of us are now, and far less confrontational.
Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr.