July 11–All Is Welcome Here: Changing our Stories

When Bryan Stevenson, executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, says that changing the narratives that support inequity and racial injustice is one of the major requirements for changing the world we live in, he is tapping into something very powerful in human beings.

Story.

Human beings have been telling stories for longer than we have had language.  Amazing, isn’t that?  For more like 150,000 years those beings who were evolving into modern human beings–who had not developed speech yet–were telling stories with paint, dance and ritual.  Speech is a very new skill for us, evolutionarily speaking, and reading is even newer.  Reading and writing have only come into common human experience in the last 5000 years.  It is no surprise, then, that learning difficulties often manifest around speech and reading.

Recent brain research has helped us understand that story, however, has a much more ancient role in our brains.  Rather than a peripheral role, it appears now that the entire human brain organizes itself around the very process of story telling (cf. Kendall Haven, Story Proof: The Science Behind the Startling Power of Story).

We organize our entire way of thinking and being in the world around stories and story telling.  Haven demonstrates how even non-story-like human thinking (e.g. scientific investigations) are organized for understanding and communication as story.

The stories are not just a side interest that human beings have or fun skill sets that human beings engage in.  Stories are everything we do. In light of this, I am coming to see that asking ourselves about the stories we tell ourselves about human relations in this country, namely, between light skinned people (aka white people) and darker skinned people (aka black, brown, yellow, and red people) goes to the very root of our existence as a nation. These stories affect everything that we do, all day, everywhere.

I wonder how willing we are to examine the stories that we and our predecessors have been telling ourselves about race in this country.  Dr. Carol Anderson, in her book White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of our Racial Divide, can help us with this.  Having begun the book, I can tell you that this is not easy.  In coming days, I want to share a few of the stories that I have walked around with all my life that I now know are not even close to the truth.  But, for today, I leave this.

Through different functions, eating food and telling ourselves stories are what keep us alive. In both instances, we can be made aware that what we we are taking in is not good for us.  We can come to see that choosing to take in something else is much healthier for us. Eating food that is bad for me will ultimately kill me.  Telling myself destructive stories will not only kill me, but ultimately it aids the destruction of entire communities.

Bob Patrick

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