Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Stories we tell ourselves.

"In all affairs, love, religion, politics or business, it's a healthy idea, now and then, to hang a question mark on things you have long taken for granted."  
Today's long overdue blog post is partially inspired by the Bertrand Russell quote above, which I dug up from a book of quotations I have kept for a few years, and partially by a book called The Power of Myth, a rich and important book that highlights the world-view of Joseph Campbell, a mythologist who basically (in a tiny, tiny nutshell) believed that our lives as human beings are underpinned by ancient, universal stories that influence, and also help us to understand, our experiences.

But these stories, which have touched the fields of psychology, philosophy and every social science, go beyond the ancient myths of Classicism. There are stories we tell ourselves on a daily basis - some which have been passed down, and some that we make up as we go along. We feel that what we believe is 'the truth', when in reality, it is just what we are used to. These stories can determine anything from our our jobs, to what we choose to eat, to what political party we favour, even to whom we love.

I thought it might be interesting to, as in Russell's terms, hang a question mark on a few of the things we all take for granted.


Most of us in the middle class Western world consider ourselves free people. We have access to food, health, education, and choice. But ultimately, while we're lucky enough to be free from poverty, we are also enslaved by money. A lot of the success, achievement, 'luck', and ultimately happiness in our lives is measured by what money can buy us. Everything is a commodity and is bought and sold - universities cost thousands, prices of basic living space are on the rise, and to take a few simpler examples - the best seats at any concert cost more. Good food costs more. Quality clothing costs more. The story we've been told is that it's OK for this hierarchy to exist. But who decides? And how often have we discovered that the price we are paying does not reflect the real price, causing someone out there to suffer?

The concept of money is what reinforces the status quo. It allows the rich to remain rich, and the poor to remain poor. And because money is the only way to transcend (or even maintain) our position in society, we might ask if we are also enslaved by our means of earning it - our work.


We all know that to live is to work. Everyone needs a job as a means of survival. The average person will spend 35% of their time at work over a 50-year working life, and this assumes 8 hours of sleep per night. I can safely say that the majority of working people my age sleep less and work more.

Another thing I can say for certain is that the majority of people are less than happy to be at work. You might not hate your job, but you're less than content devoting so many hours to it. This means that most of us are spending 35% or more of our time disinterested, or plain unhappy. How many of us stop to consider other ways of living, or other means of livelihood that might be more fulfilling to us?

Our Place in the World

We all have a very strong sense of our identity and where we come from. But sometimes, confined within the borders of our own countries, and blinded by a mythology which tells us that our individual lives are more important than the collective, we might forget that we form part of a wider world. We disconnect ourselves, not only from the plight of others, but from the planet itself. We know that our lifestyle is totally unsustainable, depleting our natural resources day by day, yet we do nothing about it. To what extent is the story we tell ourselves about our own lives numbing us to the realities of the bigger picture?


I could go on forever but I'll stop here. What I will say is that questioning our long-held beliefs, while sometimes uncomfortable, is essential. It makes room for serious debate about the way we live in the 21st century, and opens our eyes to the possibilities of living differently - perhaps in a way that is more sensitive to our physical, emotional and spiritual needs, as well as the needs of our planet.