There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes,
“What the hell is water?”
From David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech at Kenyon College
The idea that there is division in our country is a given. It has always been this way. It is this way in every country. That is it currently peaking and manifesting in some very troubling ways also seems like a given. If we look at what everyone is fighting for, we see that it isn’t over land or rights or equal access to something as it has been in the past, it’s over who gets to control the narrative.
This might seem like a silly or small thing to fight over, but it’s been the fight for a long, long time, and it has always mattered greatly. Caesar very actively sought to the control narrative in everything he did and was able to do masterfully. Gandhi shifted the narrative in a way that brought his country freedom while allowing the British to depart with their heads up. Hitler got people to believe he could change the narrative for his country, as did Barack Obama and Donald Trump. I am not implying there is a connection or similarity between any of these people apart from their deep understanding of the importance of narrative.
We have narratives in our lives as well, things we believe about life and about ourselves. These are deep-seated beliefs that guide what we think, how we behave and how we treat ourselves and others. Narratives are the essence of hiding-in-plain-sight and missing the forest for the trees. They are so ingrained in us that we don’t even think they are there at all.
They are water to a fish.
This is all well and good if the water is pure and clean, but becomes a serious problem when it is dirty and polluted. Most of our water is dirty because we are humans who were raised by other human and who live with other humans and who believe what other humans have told us about how life and the universe works and about ourselves. Humans are messy. This doesn’t make for clean water.
We’ll look at narratives over the next few days. In the meantime, ask yourself what kind of water you’re swimming in. Just like a fish, you can probably tell by how you are feeling. You can tell by how you feel about yourself and others. You can tell by how you perceive the world and the people in it. It might be hard to see because it is masquerading as the Truth or common sense or how-things-are.
Narratives always do.
That’s why they are so important.