Stories Stories Stories – Sanity Comes At A Price

Sometimes it seems like we’re all at the mercy of currents of circumstances and fait accompli, so the best we can do is try to be a good commentator; or else surrender to the currents and – in both cases – it’s mostly a hope to be carried along somewhere good, where your life-collected talents can be used – maybe recognised – and hopefully you’ll be swept by love close enough to grab hold.

Too much commentating leaves too little time to be absorbed by the journey, too much time risked deconstructing the beauty of the scenery into just more rocks and leaves and sky.

Too much deconstruction trains it into an unconscious habit that turns the natural living in the impressions of the moment as life sweeps us along, into an observer experiencing things personal as if through a glass, feelings become constipated – and then almost alien, disdained by ingrained vanity as the animal reacting to the mere tone of events.

That said, while it might be desirable to submerge oneself in the vicissitudes of life’s daily revelation, and undoubtedly feeling the fierce emotion of engagement can be a wonderful thing, it’s also a risk. That’s bad in life, negative circumstances, tragedy, misery, a whole anti-spectrum of life that’ll swallow the submerged participant in a world of ungood.

We don’t get to pick and choose. Submit to the flow of the currents and feel the compelling high-points, but also risk tumbling into bleak inescapable lows. And tumble you will; we all do, because that’s the coda of senility at the end of everyone’s traversal of their human lifespan.

Maybe there’s a happy equilibrium. It’s a challenge to find it, though, not least because it’s ever-changing over time. What most do, it seems to me, is another submission: this time to the regulations of the surroundings. That means moulding oneself to the expectations and conventions of society; whichever society that happens to be. For most this is a lifelong cognitive behavioral therapy and, depending on mental processing speed and personal habituation, it trains a divergence in an individual’s personality between the real self and the roleplay self.

Almost everyone will have memories of childhood where this divergence plays out, where the real had to struggle with the role in an uncertain situation. We tend to get better at it by adulthood, the role having become second nature. By middle age so much time has been invested in the roleplay it’s entrenched as if fundamental – to be defended – even in the face of circumstances sympathetic to the real personality, where it would’ve been fine to be real, the mental muscles built for the roleplay have become the dominant paradigm. More’s the pity.

There’s advantages to having most human beings trained to conform to society’s expectations. It’d be possible to argue our civilised behaviour depends on it; that life would become a chaos if everyone were real (within the law). Maybe that’s so.

But the preeminence of common denominator roleplay comes at a price. We surrender our innate authenticity in favour of a role that’s constructed of observed social norms – at best moving closer to identity groups most conducive to our own comfortable path of least resistance – which means sense of belonging. At best this paints large numbers in broad identity strokes, turning individuals into mere ciphers. At worst it codifies prejudice and in-group out-group thinking that’s the well-spring of hate leading to violence; at scale.

Identity, that’s born and nurtured in the cognitive behavioural training of this divergent role version of oneself, is rooted not in reality – though there may be resemblance – but instead a collage of stories.

The stories are the detail of the role’s knowledge of what it should be: how to feel, how to react, how to perceive the world. Reality, if contradictory (or too challenging) comes off second best. This is a big problem. It’s perhaps the biggest practical problem with the human condition. At the bottom of almost every error, personal, social, group, national, is a story gone wrong and the ends to which people have gone pursuing it.