The narrative 1
A student of mine, after listening to my last Sunday call recording, asked why Jews turned to a different strategy than the slaves from Africa. Or Native Americans.
I can answer this question on many different levels. This is, by the way, the skill you need, the skill Professor Feynman tested for in his graduate students wannabes: being able to answer any question on many different levels.
You are stuck in the one perspective: right wrong, true false, good bad. This gives you a life that is self-righteous, or the life of a victim, but either way, a life where you don’t have much power.
One reason why Jews turned to study and making more of themselves could be is that this discrimination against them began five thousand (give or take a thousand) years ago.
I personally don’t believe a word in the Bible. In my humble opinion the Bible is narrative.
Narrative is a story of series of stories that are designed to create context.
The best example for this is the story of the British people.
None of it happened. It popped out of the head of a “The creator of the familiar literary persona of Arthur was Geoffrey of Monmouth, with his pseudo-historical Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain), written in the 1130s.”
Another well known narrative is the narrative of other religions.
I don’t want a religious war here, so I’ll just say that… and look at contemporary “religions” where the narrative is what creates a selling point: most of today’s miracle maker gurus… all of those narratives are cobbled together, and most of them, like the history of the British Kings has no truth in reality.
According to the narrative, G-d, or an angel of G-d came down in search of a group of people who would be willing to participate in an experiment where they create a covenant with G-d.
They would have to promise to keep the commandments and they would become chosen, whatever that means.
So this angel, or G-d himself goes around in the world and asks hundreds of groups and tribes if they would be willing to forego the normal, and live according to the commandments.
This goes on for years, and every group says, No way… Especially the part about not coveting your neighbor’s wife… that none of the people wanted to give up.
At some point this G-d or angel got to the Jews. Asked the same question and the Jews said… “yay, why not. Being chosen sounds good.”
And that was how it happened. There was a price to be paid. A big price. A big commitment.
And although the experiment turned out to be long, and arduous, and no fun, the Jews, as a body, kept their end of the deal. There wasn’t a mandatory disclosure policy at the time, or maybe the Jews didn’t read the small print, but they got a raw deal: the story of Job has nothing over the story of the Jews, it parallels it.
This is the role of a narrative: it creates a context for what happens, for what you have to do to survive… for life.
You can contrast it with Christianity if you want. I am not going there, but you’ll see why and how the two narratives give a whole different attitude to each.
Black slaves have a victim story as narrative. And when you have a victim story, your whole “war-book” will be different. You have no reason to work or study or strive, because in the end it will be taken away.
I am reading a true story about two Trinidad men of the Rastafarian faith, who were black and paid the price.
A true victim story. I am not saying victim is a story… but it is a narrative, it is a context inside which you do things… The expectations come from the narrative. And the narrative makes being black not a privilege, not a crown to wear proudly, not a burden to bear with joy, but a curse.
My brother when he was about 10 years old, came home from school on day. He threw his school stuff on the dining table, and exclaimed loudly. “I don’t know why I am a Jew, but if I can choose, I don’t want to be one.”
And he isn’t. And neither is my older brother.
Jewishness had deep roots in me…
I was never told by my parents that I was a Jew. I think it was my second/third? cousin who did. And people in the street who called Dirty Jew.
When in 1956 Jewish men were hung on lampposts by their feet, their pants hanging over their heads (killed first, of course), I knew they were my people. And it made me double up on studies, and curiosity, and becoming the best I can be. The Jewish way. The appropriate response to violence, to killings.
Turn to Life…
The narrative made, 100%, of memes.
Memes tell you what is right and what is wrong. The memes tell you who you are, how you are, what to do. What attitude to have. What is important and unimportant.
So being a Jew is a set of memes. The subtle changes in the brain, in the genes, are not cause, they are effects. Caused by the memes that cause the behavior that result in the genetic changes.
So there you have it. My totally unscientific and probably quite accurate look at ethnicity.
PS: I did not write about many ethnicities that would deserve to be analyzed.
One of my students is Kurd. Kurds live in the diaspora, and have been largely forced to assimilate. They had a proud past, but not a strong narrative.
Here is what he wrote this morning:
I found this meme last night. A meme that has been driving my life. I could see myself sitting in the car that is my life, looking from this context but i was not driving it.
I thought I was but I haven’t been doing that. The meme has.
The meme that says “my life should be different”, and I have been looking from the context of “something is wrong” or “it shouldn’t be this way” and I’ve been resisting, trying to fix or not doing anything.
And that is how I look at everything in life. even the coaching, the guidance you give, my work, anything. Because I’ve been listening to that meme and living in that context.
I can hear this meme too; “life should be easy”
When I really look back the happiest times in my life were the hardest life. For example the military. It was not easy. I went in as a normal soldier and raised my ranks and became one of the best. It was not easy to do that but when I look back, it was one the best times in my life.
I think that A is A is part of the Jewish narrative.
You see, if it is all an experiment, then you can see that A is A is easier to declare, than whining and whinging about how it is… escaping into a dream world where things are the way they are supposed to be, and you are happy… while your life turns into s-hit for reasons of neglect or reactivity.
This work, the work of becoming a human being, is 70% about the narrative. And 30% about what you do.
It is not easy to get that the narrative is the narrative. That the previous narrative of your life wasn’t the truth, and the new one is neither.
Reality? Collective hunch at best.
But it works. Works like gangbusters.
And remember what I honor as my Higher Power? You chose god. I chose “what works”.
I am winning. How are you doing?
The people in that ACOA program I participated in 1988 are still there. Telling the same sob stories.
I saw The Punisher over the last few days. There is a support group for Vets (veterans) in it. You can see that unless the narrative changes, nothing changes.
And that how it works for humans in life.
A is A.
Here is an example:
The Bible borrowed local legends and twisted them to fit its own interpretation.
One of the stories is the story of Queen Esther and Purim.
An older Persian legend has a very similar plot line, though, and the Book of Esther could be a Jewish spin on that Persian tale, Eilam Gindin said.
No historical sources outside the Bible mention a plot to kill the Jews in ancient Persia; Jews aren’t even mentioned in ancient Persian sources until the 3rd century C.E.
“Maybe we weren’t as important as we like to think,” Eilam Gindin said, referring to her Jewish co-religionists. “We survived, our book survived, we’re important now. But at that time, we were just another ethnic group or nationality in the empire.”
Meanwhile, in Iran, some have cast the Book of Esther in an anti-Semitic context, Eilam Gindin said.
At the end of the Book of Esther, after the Jews are saved, they are given royal permission to go on a killing spree against their enemies.
Eilam Gindin admits it is not the nicest part of the book, and it may not reflect an actual historical event. But there are references in Iran to the Jewish holiday as “the holiday of killing Iranians,” and some refer to the events of the Book of Esther as the “Iranian Holocaust.”
Now, if you expect me to know everything and be accurate about everything, then you are ruled by memes… memes I am not ruled by.
I do my best to be accurate, both in facts and in my conclusion from the facts as I know them.
A racial or ethnic narrative will most likely define how you live. Or, as in my family’s case, some in the family hear the narrative, others don’t.
So this is not bomb making or other precise science. Sorry to disappoint.
So if you are offended, or now hate me and are blood thirsty for MY blood, or for the blood of all Jews… look at yourself, slow down, and start observing the memes that run your life, drive your car while you are in the driver’s seat… but not touching the levers and the dials, but leave it to the memes. Or magic. Or some god. or some mother that is supposed to come and rescue you.
PPS: I have had, over the years, students who weren’t able to change their story… their personal story. And consequently they remained miserable, miserly, angry, belligerent, judgmental, and a victim.
In the Playground, starting in January, we’ll poke holes in your story, so you can make up new ones. New stories that allow you to get closer to the good life, the life worth living.
The more flexible, the more changeable, the more adaptable you are, the further you’ll go in that work, and the more enjoyable life becomes.
No story is true. Why? Because story always includes a narrative, a frame, memes, a vantage point that can change, without changing what happened. So a story is always a particular interpretation of what happened, if the story is based on what happened.
Most narratives, on the other hand, are not even based on reality… Where you have to believe it… ugh.
The most powerful stories may be the ones we tell ourselves, says Brené Brown. But beware—they’re usually fiction.
My husband, Steve, and I were having one of those days. That morning, we’d overslept.
Charlie couldn’t find his backpack, and Ellen had to drag herself out of bed because she’d been up late studying.
Then at work I had five back-to-back meetings, and Steve, a pediatrician, was dealing with cold-and-flu season.
By dinnertime, we were practically in tears.
Steve opened the refrigerator and sighed. “We have no groceries. Not even lunch meat.”
I shot back, “I’m doing the best I can. You can shop, too!”
“I know,” he said in a measured voice. “I do it every week. What’s going on?”
I knew exactly what was going on: I had turned his comment into a story about how I’m a disorganized, unreliable partner and mother.
I apologized and started my next sentence with the phrase that’s become a lifesaver in my marriage, parenting and professional life: “The story I’m making up is that you were blaming me for not having groceries, that I was screwing up.”
Steve said, “No, I was going to shop yesterday, but I didn’t have time. I’m not blaming you. I’m hungry.”
* 1.a story or account of events, experiences, or the like, whether true or fictitious.
* 2.a book, literary work, etc., containing such a story.
* 3.the art, technique, or process of narrating, or of telling a story: Somerset Maugham was a master of narrative.
* 4.a story that connects and explains a carefully selected set of supposedly true events, experiences, or the like, intended to support a particular viewpoint or thesis: to rewrite the prevailing narrative about masculinity; the narrative that our public schools are failing.