Am I Right?

How to live ethically

We Tell Stories to Make Sense Out of Chaos

Stories provide a sense of belonging by linking you to the past and future

Stories provide a major way of understanding your place in the scheme of things by providing you with a sense of belonging and helping establish your identity. You understand your connections to the past, your links to the present and the possibilities of the future. Stories knit together these strands into a narrative that are comprehensible, even if, at times, incoherent. Contradictions and shortcoming are glossed over and the storyline itself became the truth that was lived.

Traditional narratives were clear—you took your identity from you locale, your clan, and your religion. You fit in with your family and your nation. These master narratives broke apart in the modern world under the relentless upheavals caused by industrialization, migrations and the primacy of the marketplace.

The resurgence of fundamentalism within religions is an attempt to stave off the disintegration of social relations, rescue lost connections and knit people together once again in supportive communities.

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The problem with resurrecting older narratives is that many the traditions, which those stories support, rest upon unequal and unfair relationships, particularly between the sexes but not exclusively, and therefore fail on moral grounds. A moral relationship is a reciprocal relationship that is mutually enhancing and inclusive.

The stories we live by today largely come packaged not as spiritual or communal quests but as aspirations for material gain. Values are created by advertisements and advertisements replace wisdom literature. Actors, musicians, comedians, and people are followed as they were gurus, nearly worshipped as avatars and almost deified simply because they are appealing. Celebrity images are more prevalent than religious portraits. Today’s stars aren’t in heaven and serve as inspiration and sources of wisdom to millions of people simply because they may be good in some field of endeavor.

The celebrity phenomenon underscores the human need to connect, to be part of something, to have an identity, to be part of a narrative, no matter how shallow or manipulative it may be.

We understand life through stories. Some story is better than no story, it seems. But what is becoming increasingly clear is that the marketplace narrative we now live by is too shallow to sustain us in the long run.

 

Arthur Dobrin, D.S.W., teaches applied ethics at Hofstra University. He is the author, coauthor, and editor of more than twenty books.

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