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The Power of “Story”: Understanding Society’s Grip on Your Mind

We’ve talked a great deal about belief and the Law of Attraction.  Stories are the medium that the human race uses to transmit beliefs.  Stories are everywhere, not just in books and newspapers, but in laws, popular wisdom, customs and etiquette, music, advertisements, what teachers and mentors and parents told you in childhood- in short, any medium that tells us something about The Way Things Are.  These stories about the world shape our beliefs, which in turn shape our lives.

In a macroscopic sense, stories are society’s reproductive mechanism- they allow us to create our children in our own image, just as our parents’ generation did with us.  Stories are society’s genetic material.  Nations, conflicts, wars, socioeconomic structures, all are sustained on the power of stories to inculcate beliefs.

 

A Look at Our Stories

 

Many of these stories encapsulate the lessons society has learned over the years.  Unfortunately, not all of the stories have positive effects on us and our belief structures.

Sometimes, there’s a specific agenda behind that belief.  John Taylor Gatto, award-winning former New York State public school teacher, has spent years researching and documenting the beliefs that public education was designed to foster in children.  As we’ve previously written, the avowed goal behind many innovations that are now part and parcel of public education worldwide was to create students who think in similar ways, believe similar things and would generally make tractable additions to the workforce.

 

Let’s have a look at the stories that we gravitate towards for entertainment.  On television and in literature, the current wave in storytelling is quite interesting.  We’ve been acclimatised to think of darker, grittier, more depressing material as “realistic.”  Cop shows, Dramas, Sci-Fi, Fantasy- genre after genre has begun to tell us that “real” means a world where all heroes fall, where people serve their own interests above any higher good, where no one’s hands are clean, where all successful people are unscrupulous, where everyone is bitter and unable to maintain stable human relationships of any kind.  In short, the stories that permeate our culture at the moment show us exactly the opposite of what most of us want to manifest in our lives- and sell it to us as reality.  Now there’s a healthy belief for you!

I’m not saying that fiction shouldn’t encompass the struggles of human life- it absolutely should.  But to be both honest and useful to us, the way to overcome those struggles should be included (by both positive and negative example).  The trouble is, that’s exactly the kind of narrative we seem intent on discarding.

 

Weak Stories

 

In Power vs. Force, Dr. David Hawkins describes the effect of trying to fight or use force against something.  He uses the “War on Drugs” as a prime example.  Trying to fight a phenomenon rather than build up its opposite is the surest way to strengthen it.  A similar effect can be observed in every situation where we’ve been told a conflict-based story.


The world of work and employment is a prime example.  We are told that we are in conflict and competition with other job-seekers, with other candidates for promotion.  We are at the mercy of our employers.  Our success is based on how hard we work and how much crap we will accept- so says the prevalent narrative of our society.  We pull ourselves up by the bootstraps, toiling in jobs we don’t care about until we retire (or, more likely with the financial crisis, until we die).

The problem is, none of this has anything to do with how success really works.  Successful people follow their talent and their passion, knowing that they have something to offer- and they succeed, even if only after much trial and error- that is, after eliminating whatever was blocking them from achieving their goal.  (Search “Famous Failures” on Youtube to see some great examples- two of them became American presidents and one invented the light bulb.)

You don’t have to subscribe to all of Hawkins’ theories (and I for one think there are some problems with his methodology) to understand that the low-vibrational energy of conflict-based narratives and beliefs will always be less successful than the higher-vibrational energy of emphasizing the positive.  The same thing applies to the fear narratives that are so prevalent today- whether it’s killer diseases or terrorism, something, it seems, is always out to get you (of course, the fact that you’re still here reading this might be an indication that the threat is just a little overrated!).

 

Vetting These Stories

 

One of the most powerful tools for personal resilience you can master is simply to notice these stories and the beliefs they generate.  I once had a teacher who taught her class to do this with advertising- I have never once to my recollection purchased anything in all the years since simply because it was advertised.  You can start to look at your reality in more objective terms by standing outside the flow of the stories and examining them.  Observe the mentality of the time, the flow of fashion, the changes in thinking, the surge of popular enthusiasm, rather than being caught up in them, and understand that they will pass.  It is much more difficult than you might think.

Once you’ve started to notice, there are a number of tools you can use to vet the stories that underlie your own mental programming.  They should be fairly familiar to you:

 

  1. The Ws: Who told the story?  Why did they tell the story?  What beliefs did the story generate?  Where have these beliefs led those who hold them?  When did this story start?
  2. What is the emotional level of the belief?  How does it make you feel?  Is it confrontational and conflict-based?  Does it ask you to fear something in a way that is disproportionate to the danger?  How does it cause you to act toward others or when approaching a particular task?
  3. How does the belief square with your core principles?  Does it help you of hinder you in manifesting these principles in your life?
  4. What other stories have been told on this subject in other times and places?  What were their effects?

 

The most important and indispensable tool, of course, is a genuinely open mind.

 

What do we mean by an open mind?

 

An open thinks, “I know, at most, parts of the truth.  The totality of truth and knowledge is too big for my mind to grasp.  Therefore I will accept what seems to work and seems to be good for me, regardless of theoretical and ideological infighting, until I find something better, and I will also assume that I may be partly wrong.”  This approach does not deny the existence of bedrock principles and beliefs- it merely acknowledges that they are greater than the mind that is thinking about them.  Ideology, like relativism, is the enemy of truth.

 

Application

 

By noticing the connections between the stories you absorb throughout your life, the beliefs they encourage (or discourage) and the effects of those beliefs in your own life, you gain not only a tool for changing your own belief structure in order to improve your own life, but an inner barometer for all stories.  By their fruits you will know them, as the Gospel of St. Matthew says.  If the fruit of the story, the beliefs that it feeds, have a positive impact upon you and your life, keep it around.  If not, you need to start asking questions of that story.

 

 ~ Dr. Symeon Rodger


Recognizing the FEAR Dynamic

How many things are you afraid of? How many times have politicians, officials, corporations told you to be afraid of something? How much of the media coverage you see or listen to reinforces those fears? All leadership and all marketing begins with a narrative, a story that impacts people and gets them to mentally organize the world in a way that is helpful to the leadership or product campaign.

Fear is the classic fallback narrative for most defective leaders and marketers throughout history, from dictators to insurance salesmen- and we’re swimming in it. One of the most helpful things you can do for your own personal resilience is to learn to step back and identify the narrative of fear before you internalize it.

There is such a thing as rational prudence – the public awareness campaigns about sanitation at the turn of the twentieth century leap to mind – but too little of modern fear-mongering has such a rational foundation. The campaign to market flu vaccines strives to persuade us that getting inoculated each year against one possible strain of flu that may come around is a better use of our money than doing what it takes to develop strong immune systems in the first place. Pharmaceutical companies advertise through fear – specifically, the fear of symptoms – to encourage us to treat our illnesses like a game of whack-a-mole, hitting each new symptom with another drug as it appears. Cosmetics companies teach us to fear social shame and disguise our physical imperfections with more products.

Terrorism is less deadly in the developed world than car accidents, aviation accidents, smoking, alcohol abuse, obesity, ordinary crime or any of the leading diseases, and yet for the past decade it has been the supreme focus of public anxiety. It has been used to tighten surveillance, to increase the paramilitary component of the police, to circumvent ethical and legal prohibitions, to invade countries and to sustain the most costly wars since World War II. Imagine putting that kind of effort into any of the other leading causes of death, here or in the developing world. We didn’t do this…. not because we are in more danger from terrorism than any of these other factors, but because we can be made to feel more vulnerable – not only are the images more striking, but we weren’t yet desensitized to it.

Fear has the property of bypassing reason and provoking action – after all, the fight-or-flight response exists for situations in which there is no time to think. For that reason, it is an effective call to action. But in the long run, it impairs our judgement. It floods our bodies with adrenaline on a regular basis, and our energy focuses on survival rather than personal fulfillment. Everything I’ve written before about “survival mode” applies here. It is to the advantage especially of mediocre leaders and corporations to have a population locked into survival mode, because it means that every issue will be examined through the lens of fear.

Capable leaders, on the other hand, promote narratives of hope, courage and personal and community fulfillment. Listen to any speech by Churchill or Roosevelt in World War II – they’re all about courage and hope. Hope and courage are always more powerful than fear, both on a vibrational level and in terms of what they can achieve when used effectively – the 2008 US presidential election was a vivid illustration. But there’s a catch. Hope makes a claim. It needs to back it up. I am not aware of any pharmaceutical cold medicine ad that has ever promised to cure a cold. Why? Well, they can’t. All they have to trade on is fear of the symptoms. If you provide hope, you have to make something happen. If you trade on fear, you don’t even have to make something not happen – you just have to be able to claim that it happened less than it otherwise would have. And if the fear is of the imponderable or intangible kind, so much the better.

So what can we, as consumers and citizens, do about this? Well, in previous posts, I’ve talked about learning to manage your own thought patterns to improve your emotional and spiritual freedom. It’s exactly the same here. If you can see how they’re trying to sell you, you can go back to the first principles of resilience and ask, “Is this emotion good for me? Is it necessary? Where is it leading? Can it back up its claims? How do these claims stack up in the broader perspective? Are these facts correct? What are some other facts that are being ignored?” Whether or not you ultimately accept the message, the moment you ask those questions, you go from being a participant in a kind of crowd psychology to an independent agent.

The attached video is from a British political comedy called Yes Minister, which I heartily recommend to anyone interested in understanding how government really works (or doesn’t). In this clip, the minister is being sold on something through the logic of fear. Note the pattern – if we try to fix one wrong thing, we’ll open a can of worms, jobs will be lost, the government will fall, and then where will we be?

Fear is an implacable master. If you let it run your life, the life you’ll create will not be to your liking, and that I can guarantee. So resolve now that you’ll take at least the first steps to liberating yourself from this cruel enslavement. No one can do it for you – you and only you need to make a decision.

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger


Join the 5-Day MEDIA FAST!

That’s not “fast” as in “quick”, but “fast” as in “stay away from it”!

A “media fast” means going without all forms of paper and electronic news media for a week. To be specific:


• Absolutely no newspapers, news magazines, TV news, internet news, etc. Pretend you’ve moved to Alpha Centauri and no longer care what happens on our big blue ball in space


• Absolutely no unnecessary web surfing – i.e., unless going to a particular site is essential to completing a work-related task, don’t go there

Now the good news; here’s what you are allowed:

• Pleasure reading, preferably fiction


• One hour of TV per day, so long as it’s not the news!

“Why Should I Put Myself Through This?”


Few people have any idea to what extent media reporting deliberately manipulates their opinions, carefully plays on their fears and anxieties, and presents them with a story that’s so vacuous as to be completely useless.


Just last week I had to good fortune to talk to an expert in disaster management who has inside knowledge of the events surrounding the recent massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. He explained to several of us in great technical detail how the media reporting of the incident is extremely misleading.


And, of course, much media reporting is simply there to serve a political agenda of one kind or another. In Soviet Russia they had only two national newspapers, Pravda (“Truth”) and Izvestia (“News”). This led to the common saying, “Pravda nye izvestia i Izvestia nye pravda” – “The Truth is not the news and the News is not the Truth”.


Unfortunately, for all of our self-righteous rhetoric about having a “free press”, we’re not always much better off, it seems.


All the more reason to “turn off the tap” in your own life. And it’s tough to do because we get addicted to the input, the gossip and simply the background noise the media provides. Afraid of missing something critical? Right… that’s about equal to your chances of winning the lottery.


Yet if you want to be a more effective and more resilient person, you need to take back control of the information streaming into your life. After all, why should you swallow all the anxiety the media’s trying to foist on you??


If you even half of their dire predictions of the last decade had come true, you wouldn’t be reading this – you’d have long since been killed off by West Nile Virus, Avian Flu, killer bees, al Qaeda, H1N1 or a stray asteroid impact. Yet here you are, living and breathing. Who would have guessed?


So I invite you to join me this week for the 5 Day Media Fast. As you go through this process, please feel free to leave your comments on the blog. My guess is that you’re going to feel SO much better. Maybe even better enough to make some changes to your lifestyle 😉






On your mark, get set… STOP!




~ Dr. Symeon Rodger









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