Tag Archives: accidents

Be skeptical of stories

This is an uncertain time, and it’s scary for that reason.

People may prefer the certainty of stories from the past over the scary uncertainty of the non-story of the present.

Traditional stories — satisfying stories — are always moral. When a bad guy wins, or when a random event happens to a main character, that’s not a traditional, satisfying story. My dad’s death wasn’t a good story at all — he died in a car accident though no fault of his own. There was no lesson for me to learn from this accident, except that sometimes in real life, people get killed and it’s not their fault. Bad things happen to good people. Real life isn’t a satisfying story.

Religious reasoning seems to fill the role of explaining the inexplicable for some people. I’m thinking here of those religious leaders who say natural disasters are caused by God’s displeasure with human behavior. That’s a cop-out, of course. Why do random and bad things, and randomly bad things, happen? Well, God’s either not all-good, or not all-powerful (which would include not existing).

These times feel uncertain. Of course, every time, every present moment, is uncertain. There’s certainty only in looking back at stories of the past. But stories can be told only about the past! We tell stories mainly to teach each other for the benefit of the future.

But stories don’t serve us well in a time where we can’t really figure out what’s going on, and where the old stories, the old expectations, don’t seem to apply. What I learned from watching the first episodes of the Vietnam War┬álast week was that stories — the stories the U.S. war leaders told themselves — can be bullshit.

I used to think that “be skeptical of stories” was a content-belief, but last night I thought that being skeptical isn’t a content statement but a process statement.

We may not need stories. We use them to guide (in some sense) our actions, our behaviors — don’t do what bad guys do.

Being skeptical of stories is a valid process, a valid orientation to the world, a useful way to live, it seems. If you hold on too tight to any belief, you’ll be let down, led astray.