The way in which people explain and/or justify their behavior, whether past or future, has more to do with telling a credible story than it does with producing evidence or constructing a logical argument. The traditional paradigm of the rational world claims that:
- people are essentially thinking beings, basing their reasoned decisions on the merits of discussion and evidential reasoning;
- what is judged rational is determined by the knowledge and understanding displayed, and by how the case is argued, i.e. the way in which the argument is made will determine the outcome so long as the form matches the forum which might be scientific, legal, philosophical, etc. This presupposes that life is a set of logical puzzles that can be solved through the application of rational methods.
Fisher reacts against this model as too limited and suggests a new paradigm of “narrative rationality”. He begins with the proposition that:
- people are essentially storytellers;
- although people claim “good” reasons for their decisions, these reasons include history, culture, and perceptions about the status and character of the other people involved (all of which may be subjective and incompletely understood);
- the test of narrative rationality is based on the probability, coherence and fidelity of the stories that underpin the immediate decisions to be made; and
- the world is a set of stories from which each individual chooses the ones that match his or her values and beliefs.
Commonly one of those words and illustrations that slips through my clumsy hands of in-articulation. Ryan likes pulling this word out every once in a while in our conversations and this usually reminds me why I should remember to remember it. Perhaps this dwelling on the topic will keep it more readily in my mind.
We live many narratives, knowingly or not. Just as we are members of multiple sub-cultures on many different levels, our lives would seem not to make sense were they to deviate from the narrative, or the retold stories we live. We both see our past (individually and collectively) as a story told, and the paths we will take as a sort of prophesied fate, defined and directed by the shapes of perception our stories have already given us.
- I’ve lived the rural midwestern narrative.
- The “go-to-college-cause-its-what-you-do-after-high-school” narrative.
- The “music is my life” narrative.
- The narrative of finding love, only to lose it.
- The moving far far from home narrative.
- The narrative of those who feel misidentified with the narratives they grew up with, and set out to understand the concept, as well as themselves.
We seldom appreciate the narratives we’ve left behind. They are usually scorned for our (then) naïveté and given little credit in our journey into the narratives we now live.
Narratives, especially in these contexts, can often be implied as illicit. As though they’ve tricked their way into our hearts and minds, only to replace our reason with foolishness and soap opera emotion. Misunderstood, or improperly executed narrative is no doubt, a dangerous life force, but no less, infinite sacrifice to the almighty god, Reason, is equally deceptive.The unflinching pursuit of reason is in itself, a narrative, born of pure intentions but if mishandled, leading to particular duplicity and faustian bargains.
The narratives we identify with seem to give a personal vision or expectation for the future, or perhaps, at their communal level, give us a category to belong to, and something larger than ourselves to be a part of. As much as we’d like to deny it, and as poorly as we search out these ends of hope and community, these are pieces of life’s fabric our hearts cannot live without. The integrity and the tenderness of the soul cannot do without the connections our stories bring, and nor should they. The stories told by our lives, and understood in others are our gateway to humanness, and our existence is, even if just for now, purposed.
I’ve written very little on this blog for the last month or two, for one reason or another. In this time, however, I’ve found new resolutions on my approach. I’ve found value where I previously ignored it. I’ve searched out places in my soul that need exposure as much as any. I’m looking forward to newly found narratives and the story that lies ahead.