Writing Our Own Narratives for Novel Crisis

Food for Thought

Day 11. When we are anxious and fearful, we have to write a narrative in our heads to stabilize our emotional states. Most people employ the “whatever works” strategy to write it. When our culture faces an entirely new type of crisis, there are no established narratives we can adopt, which means we are on our own to write one from scratch. But this is not easy for most people. In a way, we have to be creative writers to achieve it. This is why, as an easier alternative, we turn to social media and the traditional media to find the narratives we can adopt for our own screenplays.

At the same time, we try to affirm our narratives by winning the approvals of others, which is why anyone who does not agree with us is annoying or even aggravating.

Once we find a narrative that works, we perceive anyone whose narrative contradicts it as a threat because it disturbs our emotional stability and peace. The truth value of this narrative becomes irrelevant. Proposing a different narrative is perceived as rude, insensitive, or inconsiderate behavior.

Intelligence and capacity to consider a different narrative are independent attributes of a person. Some people are highly intelligent, but unable to consider other narratives because their emotional states are too fragile for the task.

Given enough time, our society as a whole eventually adopts a narrative that works for itself also, which becomes the dominant ideology. Aligning to it can give us a religious sense of belonging and unity. Once this happens, everyone stops looking for narratives and approvals.

But what if this narrative is wrong? If you see a hole in it and if you bring it up, you will face massive resistance and hostility. If your narrative is threatening enough, you can be ostracized.

In our current crisis, a tentative societal narrative is “flatten the curve.” Although it is a sophisticated concept, politicians are now able to refer to it without explaining what it means. The formation of this narrative took about a week, which is shockingly fast. It tells us how scared everyone is.