Archive for the ‘dangers of a single story’ Category

Single Stories, With Children   2 comments

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In a recent NY Times article (“The Danger of a Single Story,” April 19, 2016), conservative columnist David Brooks writes,

As in life generally, every policy has the vices of its virtues. Aggressive policing cuts crime but increases brutality. There is no escape from trade-offs and tragic situations. The only way forward is to elect people who are capable of holding opposing stories in their heads at the same time, and to reject those who can’t.

There, right in our faces, the challenges of a “single story”: even as he strives to diagnose the dangers of binary thinking, Brooks beautifully illustrates it: “the only way forward.”

There are, of course, nearly an infinite number of ways forward. (The larger the group you look at, the fewer the ways. So look smaller, instead. We each of us will make, are making right now, our own ways forward, different from everyone else because we’re different. This post, this blog, is my set of ways. They don’t negate yours. Both-and, not either-or.)

Right now, more than in the past, we face difficulty identifying what “forward” looks like. Oh, there’s always a raucous chorus of voices who will tell you their versions. Mostly we suspect it’s “not what we have right now.” But that’s not at all the same thing as some kind of straight-jacket on reality that drops us into one kind of cosmic “only,” a limited-time offer from the gods.

[Pause for Druid meditation on the rhododendron almost ready to bloom, on the crab apple already loud with bees.]

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Back again. Readers of this blog know I work mostly in the personal as opposed to the political. And I’ll continue to insist they’re two distinct things. Of course they frequently intersect. Don’t most things in our universe?

Partly that’s a matter of scale. We’re beginning to realize, painfully, that we can only effectively know the local and personal. I can and do pretend from time to time to have wisdom about things outside my experience. (Sometimes I even get away with it.) Prophets and Wayshowers manage to pull it off with panache, and get others to buy in.

But as soon as I can, I’m taking this discussion out of the abstract and into the individual. Name a policy and I’ll show how it erases the unique, the personal, the distinctive. Policy tends to exemplify the tyranny of abstract, one-size-fits-all thinking. Draw a line in the sand and that line starts to matter more than people do, regardless of which side of the line they’re on. Is that ever right, we ask? And our answer determines our experience. There’s no such thing as free will — because we will it so.

[Pause for second Druid meditation, on appearances and other realities. Not just one reality. Boring. Not even just two. Almost as boring. Multiple, endless. Now we’re talkin’.]

I want to hold multiple stories in my head, not just one, even though I’m not running for office or proclaiming my way forward as the ONLY, as if all other options, all other universes, are BAAAAAD. No, I want to hold multiple stories because they’re beautiful, and beautifully true, together or separately, at one time or another. Each one a drop of dew, mirroring the blades of grass nearby, but also the sky. Dreamer, you cry. At the risk of riding on Lennon’s coattails, “you say I’m a dreamer, but …” We’re not there yet. That’s one thing dreaming’s for.

Fall in love with the universe, I hear, as both command and prayer, fall in love with it, and you don’t seek policies, you seek the beating heart of each thing, to know it better, to celebrate with it in its own way, orgy or restraint, sowing or boundary. Yes, as I plant my garden and keep out the rabbits and squirrels, and sweat a little in order to live here at all, I can celebrate at the same time. No single story for me. Work and rejoice. They’re not opposites. Things together. The universe, I find, is a marrying kind of place, for worse, and for better.

 

 

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