birdIt’s funny how things come together sometimes. Monday, after posting my advice column on blogging time-savers, and saying the most important thing is to get away from your computer and your reading and get out into the real world and give yourself time to think creatively about what really matters to you personally, I followed my own advice. Chelsea and I went for a long walk. And soon my head was filled with rage about all the things wrong with this world and the ten things that still keep me awake at night. And I wanted to know why they go on, ignored, uncorrected. Things happen the way they do for a good reason, I’ve always said. You need to understand why all this stuff has happened and continues to happen. Find the root cause, not the symptoms.

People love to read editorials and blogs that rant cleverly, emotionally and articulately, and blame other people for what’s wrong. Pointing the finger at others exonerates us, takes the heat off, makes us feel better about ourselves. What’s the root cause, and who’s to blame?

And then I came back in and read some more of The Truth About Stories, the book I blogged about on Sunday so enthusiastically. And at the end of the book I found my story, perhaps our story, and all the rage I had focused outside was refocused inward, because this story is, at its root, a story of personal failure, cowardice and fear.

Here is what I read:

The truth about stories is that that’s all we are. The Nigerian story-teller Ben Okri says that “in a fractured age, when cynicism is god, here is a possible heresy: we live by stories, we also live in them. One way or another we are living the stories that are planted in us early or along the way, or we are also living the stories we planted — knowingly or unknowingly — in ourselves. We live stories that either give our lives meaning or negate it with meaninglessness. If we change the stories we live by, quite possibly we change our lives.”…

In North America, we talk about our environmental [and business] ethic. [We get outraged about incidents like the Exxon Valdez spill and the Enron fraud and demand action]. To listen to the noise generated by these two events, you would have thought that we cared. But in fact, we don’t. Not in any ethical way. Oil tankers are supposed to be safe. Financial institutions are supposed to be bastions of integrity. But we do nothing to prevent such disasters from happening again. And when they do, and they surely will, our reaction will be the same, because the story we tell about moments like this is that they shouldn’t have happened, that they’re someone else’s fault,…that there’s no way to avoid them completely, that the environment and investor confidence will recover eventually…

The Canadian government closed down the East Coast cod fishery. The cod were already gone, had been going for years, and everyone knew it. The reason was simple. Overfishing. The fishers blamed the government. The government blamed the fishers, everyone blamed the large foreign offshore trawlers, seals, global warming, El Nino, Native people… Could such a thing have been prevented? Of course. So why didn’t we prevent it?

The oil industry and our oil-based economy depend for their existence on the ability of geologists to find new fields of oil and our willingness to ignore the obvious, that at some point we’re going to run out of oil. This would suggest that reducing energy consumption, curbing the proliferation of cars and multilane highways, and converting to sustainable sources of energy would be our first priorities. But we have no such priorities. We only hope that the exhaustion of the oil supply won’t happen in our lifetime.

It’s not that we don’t care about ethical behaviour, the environment, society. It’s just that we care more about our comfort and the things that make us comfortable — property, prestige, power, appearance, security. And the things that insulate us from the vicissitudes of life. Money, for instance…

The proof of what we truly believe lies in what we do and not what we say. We’ve created the stories that allow [the ethics of what we do and don’t do] to exist and flourish. They didn’t come out of nowhere, from another planet. Want a different ethic? Tell a different story…

I weep for the world I’ve helped to create. A world in which I allow my intelligence and goodwill to be constantly subverted by my pursuit of comfort and pleasure. And because of knowing all of this, it is doubtful that given a second chance to make amends for my despicable behaviour, I would do anything different, for I find it easier to tell myself the story of my failure as a human being, than to have to live the story of making the sustained effort to help.

Our stories are lies. We know they are, but we keep telling them to ourselves and to each other. We keep living them and living in them. Thomas King acknowledges that this, The Truth about Stories, is in itself not a very satisfying story. “No plot. No neat ending. No clever turns of phrase.” (The remaining stories in this book have all three, and are remarkable).

We don’t want to hear the other stories out there in the real world — the stories of what goes on inside the walls of abusive homes, factory farms, prisons, workplaces, schools, laboratories and institutions, and which are overtly played out in inner city streets and throw-away third world countries, the endless litany of violence, physical and psychological, personal and institutional, that occurs millions of times per minute throughout our world. These other stories detract from our ‘comfort and pleasure’. They threaten to crack open the lies in our own story. That we cannot bear.

So the ‘root cause’ I was seeking during my walk with Chelsea is the subversion of our culture, this modern culture of negativism, acquisition, paternalism and scarcity whose ubiquitous, tyrannical story leaves everything in the hands of fate, or god, and absolves us of our responsibility and our sins, and fills us with the constant and consuming terror of not having enough. And we know who’s to blame: The Man in the Mirror (that song was written, ironically, by a woman).

Our story is unfinished. We could change the ending if we want. Create a better ending. It’s all up to us.

[My novel-in-progress will be an attempt to create a new ending, and perhaps a completely new story. I still hope to have it finished by the end of June.]

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6 Responses to OUR STORY

  1. Michael says:

    Excellent post, Dave!

  2. Dave:Cheri Huber, the Zen Buddhist teacher has a neat exercise that she teaches in order to cultivate acceptance. She asks people to make a list of 10 things that they find unacceptable. Then she asks people to choose the five most unacceptable things on that list, then pare it down to three and then one and finally to let that one go. It’s NOT about saying that things like child slavery are alright, it’s about addresseing our own suffering attached to the story of it. When Thomas King says “stories are all we are” he means this too. One of the things that resonated with me about King’s work, as an Aboriginal person very much in his mold (pale-skinned, mixed ancestry, middle class) is that our stories about who we are as Aboriginal people are loaded with suffering, but in fact if stories is all we are then that suffering is stories too. Once we get beyond that suffering, then we get free, and that means addressing our stories. My great great grandmother went to residential school and as a result never lived in her community again. She raised her children as if they were white even though they were darkskinned right down to my grnadfather’s generation. It is a common story in our communities that as people tried to do this, great suffering took place, in various forms of abuse so that eventually the whole notion of Aboriginal ancestry was tarnished with the story of suffering. It is only in my generation that we, as a family, are able to reclaim that story for what it is: messy and complicated, but no more full of suffering than it is full of joy.We choose our stories, the one’s that stick. If war is wrong, and we think it shouldn’t happen, we will create all kinds of suffering for ourselves because war DOES happen. When our stories don;t equate with reality, we suffer. If we can say “War happens” and truly accept that then we can finally find a place that also says “I’m going to bring peace to this world.” But, as Thich Nhat Hahn would say, youcan make peace until you can be peace. So best wishes for being at peace with your stories in 2004. And keep it up here. I love it.

  3. Rob Paterson says:

    Chris – Thanks RobOn a less serious note, I recommend reading MoneyBall by Muchael Lewis Dave. It is all about the lies of baseball and how attached everyone in baseball is to them. What is good is that Lewis’ telling of another story may give this new story lifeHappy new year to you and yours Dave

  4. judith says:

    a sonnet for my friend dave pollard…(btw dave, i loved your holiday morph of ’twas the night before…’)and so it is of stories that we’re formed,of air and dirt and water loosely held.we struggle with our ‘oneness’ and are warmedwhen with a ‘group’ we sometimes find we meld.your story or my story – which is true,why neither you might claim in soft, sad tone.but if we walk this earth forever bluehow will we show the honor due this home.this planet is a living entity,upon its back we carve horrendous scars.but heave us off it will, and then we’ll see,how hard it is to breathe among the stars.i don’t pretend to know a better waybut choose my actions carefully each day.best wishes for 2004…

  5. Dave: Old Lang Syne to you. You’re “The King of Links,” now, aren’t you? You helped me recently with my sidebar links, on the User Land discussion board. I touted that resource today in my blog as the miracle it is. When I have the chance soon, I look forward to reading your tips on time-savers for bloggers.

  6. Jon Husband says:

    I’ve had the same tussle with myself, which is why I’ve had to quit working as a management consultant (for “name” firms) twice in the last ten years. I couldn’t justify myself mainly trying to find ways to agree with clients about some method or technique they wanted to use, to “improve performance”, when inside I was telling myself over and over again that this action was mainly reinforcing the status quo. So, I quit (second time, recently) – and it’s scary because I have little money. But, I feel better every day while getting clearer about not lying to myself.Next … taking more positive, constructive action for issues I truly and deepy believe in. What and how not clear yet, but at least I’m not wasting my time and energy in a pointless and energy-sapping wrestling match with denial.It’s hard and sometimes lonely, though. That “other world”, the one that’s starting to seem so very unbalanced, is so big and so everywhere.

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