By Cathy Eck
Storytelling Versus History
I enjoy stories very much. I love to read them, to write them, and to watch them on the big screen. But I don’t like history at all. History is usually presented by the winners; it’s masculine-dominant (his story, not her story) and fact driven, not character driven. In short, it’s food for the intellect, the false self.
The difference between storytelling and history has become blurred in people’s minds because our educational systems emphasize history over storytelling. We can learn a lot by studying the difference between storytelling and history.
If we want to write a story, we first develop characters and maybe a plot or a story idea. We give the characters a false-self perspective, including a back story, preferences, and beliefs. Then we turn the characters loose and let them interact. If the characters don’t like the results they’re getting, they’ll hopefully have a change of mind. If the characters don’t change their mind, the story eventually becomes predictable and boring. If the characters don’t grow, viewers will stop feeling sympathy for their troubles.
We see these things clearly on the big screen, but often ignore them in our own lives. Suffering isn’t natural; it’s the consequence of being unwilling to expand our perspective and grow. Suffering comes from holding on to what we no longer need. Mental hoarding, just like physical hoarding, is destructive.
Life is Storytelling
We’re all living a potentially great story whether we know it or not. Two decades ago, the Story of “The Legend“ spontaneously popped out of my unconscious. That began my exploration into the nature of storytelling. I could see that “The Legend” was like an undercurrent in my life. Fairy tales, myths, and religious stories sit in our unconscious as causal forces in our life. This is why religions and cultures are built on a foundation of storytelling. We’re controlled by the stories we hold in mind as true. If we share a common foundation of story with another, we’ll have similar beliefs and see the world through homogeneous eyes.
Modern video games take storytelling to a new level. I used to watch my children play them, moving from level to level. If their character screwed up, they’d say, “Oh, I died.” They’d restart the game. I felt as though I was watching a miniature version of life. You either make it to the next level in your storyline, or you die. The difference is that the gamer realizes he’s responsible for his fate.
History is literal. There’s no room for individuality or interpretation. It’s simply the reporting of facts — names, dates, and physical events. History is always one-sided; usually the winners write history. As we’ve become more left-brained or intellectual, we’ve forgotten the cause and effect relationship in life. We fail to consider that every event has a belief-related cause behind it. We accept the winner’s false-self projection that their enemy is evil and deserving of punishment.
Today, people share their personal stories in historical form. They think they’re storytelling, but they aren’t. Great stories allow for change; and great storytellers allow their characters to transform. People have labeled the oldest stories mythology because they find so many versions of the old stories. Old stories changed as the characters changed. History put an end to that; history keeps us stuck within a false, collective mindset.
The true storyteller knew that he created every single character, even the evil ones. The historian only identifies with one character — the one they label good or right.
The historian acts as if he or she is either a hero or victim. They’re telling the story to get sympathy, attention, or approval. If they get such rewards, they’ll continue to tell the story to keep it alive.
Often we get stuck in another person’s story; we feel like we can’t get free. We feel bad if we expose another as cause in their drama because we’ve been trained to feel guilty for revealing the cause of history. We aren’t supposed to point out that the Emperor is naked.
Freedom requires owning all the characters in our story and seeing that they fit together like a puzzle. The victim and perpetrator/hero are opposites who have divided thought in the same way (see the triangle process); and the evil that the hero fights is simply his or her shadow.
The psychologist Fritz Perls popularized Gestalt therapy. Perls studied people’s dreams. He required them to see themselves as every character and even every essential item in the dream. In this way, they could step back and see their whole mind; they could see themselves as cause. When we see our whole mind, we see the mental cause of our problems. Then we can change our mind more easily.
We’re All Storytelling
Many have said that we’re all storytelling. We invent a story; then ideally we direct, produce, and star in it. But when we don’t own our mind, we just play a walk-on part in someone else’s drama. When we follow the false mind (which we acquired from others) over our heart (True Self), our own story remains unlived and untold. We don’t grow or change. Life becomes boring, and we feel without purpose.
Screenwriters say that the audience wants an inciting incident (usually a fall of sorts) in the first ten minutes. From the perspective of story, we plan our fall into the illusion. You probably lived that part of your story. But what happened after that. Did you learn? Did you grow? Did you change? Did you let go of your “evil” shadow? Did you love? That’s what makes a story great. And most important, did you get that precious and rare happily ever after?