by Milton Dawes
Please contemplate the following ten questions as they relate to your relationships with others and, perhaps more importantly, with yourself.
- Do you know what values, standards, or guidelines control your thinking and feelings in your relationships?
- What principles or beliefs determine your ‘world view’?
- Do you know how to improve yourself in whatever you do?
- Do you think/feel you could learn to use your intelligence more intelligently, and your creativity more creatively?
- What do you know for sure?
- How do you know what you know, and how do you know what you know is so?
- Do you judge yourself based on the high standards by which you judge others?
- Do you know how to go about creating more satisfying relationships with yourself, others, and your environment?
- Are you aware of times when you acted as if what you knew – or thought you knew – was all there was to know; when you were certain beyond a doubt … and later proved wrong?
- Do you take responsibility for the meanings you give to what you see, hear, read and experience?
I wrote these articles based on my interpretation of what I have read of Alfred Korzybski and others. My intent is to help others — and myself — apply the principles of general semantics and modify our habitual ways of thinking-behaving to improve our human understanding and relationships.
A Story About Stories From a Story-telling Form of Life
One way we could describe our species is that we are, among other characteristics, a story-telling form of life. Other life forms, in their own way, “tell stories”, but few of us believe these to be anywhere near as extensive, as varied and as fanciful as the stories we tell. We tell ourselves stories about ourselves – sometimes distressing ourselves with our own stories. We tell others stories about our children, our marriage, our pets, our fears, hopes, beliefs, vacations, and so on. We also make up and tell each other stories about other story-tellers. We repeat others’ stories, sometimes in an admiring way, sometimes to discredit them.
Politicians tell stories they think we want to hear, hoping that we will believe their stories and elect them to office. Advertisers use words, images, music, etc., to tell us stories extolling the virtues of their clients’ products and services. Revolutionaries tell stories about the good life to come after present leaders are removed. Scientists tell us stories about their discoveries of some relationships they have explored. Theologians and religious leaders tell us stories purportedly about God and His/Her relationship with the world, and about how we shoud behave toward each other. Philosophers tell us stories, purportedly about the nature of reality, values, meanings, and so on. Authors, playwrights, poets, and others, tell us stories which we sometimes fail to perceive as stories about ourselves.
Now, all these story-tellers do not usually introduce their stories by saying “This is my story …” Could it be that they/we suspect that we/others would ‘listen’ differently? In my story, I visualize a society with an evolved education system, where teachers at all levels would recognize their roles as “story-tellers”. They would help students evaluate what they read and hear in terms of “degrees of fantasy” and “degrees of accurate representation”. They would advise students to become more aware of the stories they tell themselves, and the stories they tell to others. They would also remind students that there are times to reserve judgment on a story.
When we hear the word “story”, among the images that might pop up are those of a parent telling a child a story; children listening attentively to stories in a classroom; stories we read in books; myths, and so on. We also tend to think of stories as fictional – not factual – but fanciful and made up. It is part of my story that we all make up stuff. Our everyday conversations, news reports, books and articles we write, documentaries, etc., are all made up – and as such, they also qualify as stories. In my story, I suggest that we would greatly improve our understanding of ourselves, others, situations we find ourselves in, and the world around us, if we considered the following:
- Anything we read, hear, think, feel, believe, say, write, etc., qualifies as a story. The stories we make up about someone else’s story is not their story – it is our story, about their story. Stories are not objective reports. Stories will unavoidably be slanted in terms of an individual’s age, experiences, state of mind, beliefs, concerns, motives, world view, values, social standing, and so on.
- Whatever else a story is about, it is also a story about the story-teller. It reflects his/her thoughts, feelings, experiences, understanding, etc.
- Individuals in the ‘same’ situation will have different stories to tell.
- There are unavoidable gaps in our awareness. Therefore no story tells the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. No story is ever the whole ‘story’.
- Since we depend on light waves, sound waves, electrochemical impulses etc., for information about ourselves and about the outside world, our stories will always be out of synch with their referents.
- Things were going on before our arrival. In a sense we are always ‘late’ on the scene.
- Stories constituted of relatively static words will necessarily be more or less inaccurate as an account of a world of change, process and multi-interactions.
- As maps are not the territories they represent, as words are not the processes they stand for, stories made up of words and images are not their referents. Stories are about referents, both inside and outside one’s head.
- Stories are sometimes presented to us as opinions, facts, truths, insights, intuitions, gut feelings, revelations, news, etc.
- Our stories have endings. We end our stories. But that’s not the end of the ‘story’. Happenings do not start or end exactly where our stories start and end.
- In terms of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and the observer-observed interaction, we sometimes affect, to some degree, the situations our stories are about. (Listen carefully to what we call ” news”).
- Metaphors and similes embellish our stories. For clearer understanding, it helps if we don’t confuse metaphors and similes with descriptions and facts.
- We benefit a great deal when we take responsibility for the meanings we give to the stories that we read and hear.