Monday, July 15, 2013

Irresponsible Narratives and the Lives they Impact

GS Don Morris, Ph.D.

I find it interesting how people determine narratives around issues, people, situations and circumstances. Everyone does it; many create their positions driven by highly motivated agendas. Others create their narratives based upon minimal information and still others assume the publicly shared position shared by a psychologically important person in their lives. Many people simply adopt the most convenient and non-threatening narrative available-you see even this allows one to believe he/she is being socially responsible. 

Ah, but there are flaws with each of these approaches and what goes wanting is the truth, authentic justice and courage of one’s own convictions. Multiply this by a population and one can better understand why a society and/or a culture collapse over time.

Let us examine the concept of narrative development. Common to all of the preceding descriptions are that words alone are used to create narratives. Furthermore, the selected words are derived from a person’s personal choice of the words available to each one of us-it is a conscious and deliberate choice, well at least for those who are “paying attention” and not simply “going along with the crowd”. Now, this gets us back to the idea of motivation does it not? By this I mean to suggest that one identifies the words available to describe any situation and chooses only those words that support one’s intentional narrative-has this not been your experience? If no, the remainder of this piece will not make any sense and you might be better off to stop reading now-no offense neither taken nor implied!

Let us only focus on narrative development and not co-op the discussion but confusing it with narrative promotion or narrative adoption.  These are two additional concepts to possibly be developed later.

The concept of narrative development is really quite simple. Identify the words available to describe any situation and then use only those that support your version of the story you will tell, i.e., narrative. We were taught this way back when, let us use elementary or junior high school as one scenario. Did you know anyone who began a “story” about the new oddball kid that was derogatory, mean-spirited and factually inaccurate? Later you found out that this “kid’ was a genius simply possessing social behaviors and physical mannerisms “different” from yours. Yet, the narrative persisted for many years even when it was known to those perpetuating the narrative that this “kid” was not the weirdo the narrative proclaimed. Yet, even with this truth known, the narrative persisted! 

Many tell me that this is “old news”, they know this and obviously practice it daily-all sides of situations do this, the logic that seems to be implied is then it is ok to do it also-still scratching my head each time I state this point.

You see what has become socially acceptable in today’s world is “anything or most anything” is permitted in narrative development particularly if one’s intentions are noble, fall on the side of those who are disadvantaged/oppressed and operate out of good feelings for those having less than you. Yes, if one has “good intentions” and appeals directly to the feelings of others when presenting one’s narrative than it is OK/permissible/right/correct/morally acceptable (pick a descriptor or make up one of your own) to with hold the known complete situation descriptors. Said any other way, it is possible to manipulate the narrative away from the truth, that even when the facts are presented, those who have consumed and assumed the narrative must discount the information. 

 Why?  Simple, self-preservation with regards to one’s publicly shared position. It takes a person of immense character, one who is willing to step back from an assumed narrative, seek complete information and ask what is my intention with regards to continued use of a tarnished position? Every step of the way it is useful to understand that we, as humans, have a choice to make with respect to the words we adopt, the words we believe and it is our free will that drives our selections and choices-including ignoring other details and facts that are indeed contrary to one’s existing narrative.

It is based upon this conclusion that I find it disconcerting what is going on in the USA today particularly within the circle of politics and social situations and circumstances. It is not that I am stunned by the “creative” narratives coming from all sides, I am not na├»ve nor unfamiliar with the political process. I am disappointed with people who accept the narratives as truth, as gospel, even in the face of credible information that clearly disputes and disrupts the narrative in play.

The recent classic case is the Zimmerman trial and outcome. You see, the moment I even dare mention this people have “hunkered down” in their staid positions. Let us examine the fall out after the verdict was presented. Through-out this entire ordeal the News Media offered their narrative-notice the choice in the words used and those same words appeared on FB, Twitter and other social media sites: “a police “wannabee”, racially profiled, vigilante, gun-toting, carrying skittles, unarmed teenager/child, wearing a hoodie, and so many more descriptors of the person killed by a gun carried by a man. Clearly one side attempted to create a narrative based upon the perceived emotional state of its constituency. The victim was presented as a young teen, even heard older child used, who was on his way to buy Skittles-well you know the story, I need not repeat it all. This description was used to tug at people’s heartstrings, as well as to demonize the shooter. Of course until late in the trial you did not hear about the other descriptors such as drug user, school suspension, truancy, alleged involvement in a minor robbery-nor did you hear about the shooter’s brush with the law. 

To this writer it seems that appealing to the most basic of human’s motivation system, his/her feelings and using it as not only the “hook” but the ongoing tool to control other peoples’ thoughts and beliefs has reached a pinnacle today. We all know about feelings, they can and do fluctuate across time. The power of feelings has been well documented. We have all been the recipient of decisions made and/or actions taken based solely on our “feelings state”. Did you ever opt for the hot fudge sundae (you felt compelled to eat one) only later in the evening to suffer gastric distress? Have you known someone who “needed to have” that car even though he/she could not afford it but rationalized the purchase because it satisfied a feeling? How about the high school student who felt like writing insulting and hurtful words about another person on Face book for all to read? Today we call this bullying but the writer was only operating on his/her feelings!

We all understand my point regarding feelings and their power in managing our own as well as other’s behavior. For one side to only use feeling statements to create what I call feelings based narratives is immature at best, certainly it can be hurtful, incorrect, and misleading beyond the pale at worst. 

It does not speak well of where our society and/or culture is today in America when political groups, leaders and individuals who know better are part of an ongoing strategy to only create feelings-based narratives for purposes of intentionally distorting the facts about any one, any situation, circumstance or event. Furthermore, I am more than disappointed with people I know who otherwise operate their lives with integrity find themselves echoing this narrative form. It is especially disheartening when I know that they know better but choose to sustain their social status by refusing to critical think. This my friends is how a society crumbles.

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