January 28, 2012

The Stories We Live By

An old Siberian folk saying warns, "If you don’t know the trees you may be lost in the forest, but if you don’t know the stories you may be lost in life."  The stories, of course, are our shared social and cultural narratives--the stories that shape our understanding or who we are, where we come from, and what we value.  The stories are our hero tales, folklore, creation myths, and other explanations of the universe.  The stories, like trees in the forest that line our path, guide us along life's journey.  It matters that we know and understand them.  It matters so much more when we do not.

"Their story, yours and mine," writes the poet William Carlos Williams, "it’s what we all carry with us on this trip we take, and we owe it to each other to respect our stories and learn from them."  Indeed we shall, or risk the consequences: ignorance, indifference, misunderstanding, and presumption.  All acts of human atrocity have been launched on the rails of ignorance, indifference, misunderstanding, and presumption. 

The stories we carry with us--from tribe to tribe, place to place--represent our understanding of the world. And they--our stories and beliefs--are as different as you and I. None is "right," but many are righteous.  Stories of truth and reconciliation, for example.  The parables of Jesus, Mohammad, Abraham, and the Buddha. Tales of forgiveness and kindness.  Evil is it's own story. 

We should take a moment now and again to think about The stories we live by.  Do they guide us on a desired path, or have we lost our way?