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We Need a New Story

Cultural critic and novelist, Daniel Quinn, has written, “There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with people. Given a story to enact that puts them in accord with the world, they will live in accord with the world. But given a story to enact that puts them at odds with the world…they will live at odds with the world. Given a story to enact in which they are the lords of the world, they will act like lords of the world. And, given a story to enact in which the world is a foe to be conquered, they will conquer it like a foe, and one day, inevitably, their foe will lie bleeding to death at their feet, as the world is now.“

Some of us grew up in a time when the church, the school, the government, and society at large, gave us a story to believe that asked us to live in accord with the world. There were always pockets of cynics, bullies, bigots and screwballs who rebelled and remained trouble makers attempting to divide people and communities. But for the most part, people tried to get along with one another. There was respect for humanity.

Today, that is pretty much lost on us. The story we live out today is that we are at odds with the world, that we are the lords of the world, and that the world is a foe to be conquered. That story is now basically consumed by leaders worldwide and by far too many of us who idly and indifferently accept it. And across Europe and the Middle East, and here too, the foe, and worse, countless innocents, lie bleeding at our feet.

Why have we so easily bought this story? Why are we not more determined to change the story, to find our way toward living in accord with the world and with one another?

The massive bomb in Kabul, Afghanistan this week reveals a savage, deadly story. It’s a story that much of the world has embraced and now lives. It is a story of hopelessness and despair; a story that says we are all at war with one another and our lives are being wasted in religious and political conflicts of profound discord, hate, and blame.

Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, Maya Angelou, Nelson Mandela, John F. Kennedy, and other brilliant, eloquent, deeply thoughtful thinkers are gone. We need their wisdom now, their humanity.

The great American painter, Edward Hopper, once said, “Maybe I’m not very human. All I ever wanted to do was to paint sunlight on the side of a house.”

That’s as human as it gets. We need that today; the ability to see the beauty in things both common and weighty. We need a new story to guide us. Like Roland Merullo’s novel, “A Little Love Story,” in which a character pleads for “warmth and uncalled-for kindness, the small unnoticed generosities that speckle the meanness of the world.”

How tragic it is that with all of our dizzying technological wonders, our efficient gadgets and magnificent communication gizmos, our vast learning, our skyscrapers and space vehicles, that we lumber now in this primitive, beastly story of ours, this story of rage and violence and bloody murder.

We need a new script to believe and to follow. We need pages of something so transcendent, so intelligent; something that teaches us to love again, to caress the soft underside of humanity; something that reaches the core of our souls and connects with the sacred side of our hidden goodness; something, anything, that moves us out of this story of gory mayhem that for now has us caught and captured in seemingly impassable darkness.

To paraphrase poet W.S. Merwin,
“Our words are the garment of what we shall never be
Like the tucked sleeve of a one-armed boy.”

The words of our current story are empty. We need new words. We need a new story.


© 2017 Timothy Moody

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