Stories are Us.

Like trees in a forest, we too are rooted in the living mesh of another organism—in a web of story. We give life to the stories we tell, imagining entire worlds and preserving them on rock, paper, and silicon. Stories sustain us: they open paths of clarity in the chaos of existence, maintain a record of human thought, and grant us the power to shape our perceptions of reality. The coevolution of humans and stories may not be one of the oldest partnerships in the history of life on Earth, but it is certainly one of the most robust. As a psychic creature simultaneously parasitizing and nourishing the human mind, narrative was so thoroughly successful that it is now all but inextricable from language and thought. Stories live through us, and we live through stories.

By Ferris Jabr

From: The Story of Storytelling: What the hidden relationships of ancient folktales reveal about their evolution—and our own

Harpers, March 2019 issue

Stories may not have any relationship with ‘the truth’ but they often, if they touch a common thread of love, connection, fear and loathing, are profoundly compelling and can affect our behaviour in many ways.

For instance, the story that we live in a democracy. We’ve been telling ourselves that story for so long and so compellingly that we’ve come to believe it unreservedly. Our love affair with the thought of democracy makes me think of the young man who falls in love with the idea of falling in love. When he finally meets someone he thinks he’s in love with he is so smitten by the idea of love itself that he can’t see his love object for what she truly is, a gold digger and thief.

It’s true that we can live our entire lives in a shallow pool of thought looking through rose-coloured glasses, never seeing the world for what it is. Some of our stories may turn out to be true, but some of the most important ones will turn out to be no more connected to reality than Little Red Riding Hood. Can you tell which of the stories you believe are true and which are fiction? Does it really matter?

What I learned in Texas.

Well, we were in Texas a mere 4 days.  Not a lot of time to gather a very sophisticated impression of the place or the people.  Still, because I was there to collect my award medallion of excellence from NISOD, the National Institute for Organizational and Staff Development, we got to meet people from all over the United States and parts of Canada.  Over 1200 people received awards and over 2000 attended the conference that was held in conjunction with the Awards Ceremonies.  To a large extent, all the people we met in the conference rooms, breakout sessions, exhibition hall, out on the streets and in the restaurants, basically wherever we went, the people were no different than what one might find walking the streets of Vancouver.  Most people are polite, honest, mind their own business and keep to themselves. Like people everywhere they are absorbed in their daily lives, trying to make a living or leave a trace on this planet by doing something worthwhile and significant. All want to be heroes to some extent, recognized by their fellow human beings, looked up to if possible, but at least not denigrated and diminished. We met a young man, a waiter in a restaurant, who we engaged in conversation.  He was not only a waiter, but a concert musician and new music writer.  He beamed when we acknowledged the value of his endeavours and wished him luck while promising to visit his website.  On our last day there, we stopped for coffee at the Café Crêpe, a small coffee shop attached to our hotel. I realized that this was a French themed establishment, but I was surprised a little to find out that the owner spoke impeccable French.  He told me  in French that he had arrived in Austin when he was 22 years old, decades earlier, and had stayed to work and make a life although he returned to France 3 to 4 times a year until 9/11 when he reduced his travel because of new travel restrictions. Another young man we met in a thrift shop upon learning that we were Canadians (I tell most people we meet, it’s a great ice breaker.) told us that although he lived his whole life in Austin, he always wanted to move to Quebec City. He asked us what we knew about Quebec Cite and if we thought moving there would be a good idea.  Of course, we said.   It’s a cliché, but everyone has a story, or many stories.  Everyone wants their story or stories to mean something.  If there’s a universal human characteristic, that’s it.  If there’s a point to the NISOD Awards Ceremony, that’s it.

Of course, that’s not all I learned in Texas.  Aside from any commentary I might make on people I met in Austin, I was struck by the construction of condominium towers going up in the downtown area.  Whole neighbourhoods are being bulldozed, making way for new construction.  I was told that there will be 25,000 more people living in the downtown core of Austin in 5 years than there are now.  It’s a city growing at a two-digit rate.  Given the state of the American economy, Austin has to be an exception.  The freeway and highway systems are extensive and traffic moves well, to a large extent.  We took a tour outside of downtown one day and I was impressed by the number of over and underpasses, but I also thought about how much it would cost to maintain them.  I heard more than once how high taxes were in Texas.  It’s amazing how seldom people actually make a correlation between the services they receive from the state and the amount of tax they pay.  Somehow, they think that they should not have to pay any taxes while still enjoying all the benefits they take for granted every day of their lives that are provided by the state.  People are strange.  That’s another thing I learned in Texas.

I learned a lot more in Texas, of course and I’ll get around to writing more about it soon.  If you have any questions about my time there, leave a commentary.  Ask away.