About the Author

Bill Phipps

Books by this Author
Cause for Hope

Cause for Hope

Humanity at the Crossroads
also available: eBook
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From Chapter 2: The Importance of Story


All societies live by their stories, narratives, or myths. These stories reflect who we are and determine who we will be. Rooted in tradition, they convey and define our roles, priorities, and values; and provide a vision of who we can become. Both consciously and sub-consciously, our stories shape who we are as we reflect them in the social, political, and economic structures we create. We make personal and political decisions within the context of our society’s overarching narrative. Our economic and ethical choices both reflect and shape the underlying narrative we live out individually and collectively.


Individualistic narratives


If the narrative by which we live emphasizes individualism, personal gain, a win-at-all-costs mentality, exclusivity, power over, and other related characteristics, the society we create will reflect these elements in its shape, structures, and ways of being and doing. Public policy will emphasize individual initiative and responsibility, and will minimize collective and cooperative responsibilities. People will need to “fend for themselves.” There will be no limit to the wealth individuals can accumulate, nor to the poverty into which people can sink. Privatization of public services will become desirable (to some). Government funding for public enterprise will give way to increasing reliance on lotteries, on state-sponsored-and-encouraged gambling, and on private fundraising. A society of winners and losers will quickly develop and be celebrated. Moral judgements will be made against those who are unable to compete. Mean-spiritedness will creep into public discourse and leadership.


As a result, feelings of fear become pervasive on all levels. Fear creates separation – more gated communities, more security systems, and more private police forces. Fear creates suspicion, mistrust, and more aggressive behaviour. Fear creates an economy of scarcity, and therefore of accumulation, in which people strive to get and to keep wealth as quickly and as vigorously as possible before someone else gets it or it disappears altogether.


This type of narrative undermines communal institutions and networks of collective rights and responsibilities. The planet becomes a battleground, where competing interests determine who will win and who will lose, who will have power and who will be marginalized.


Communal narratives


On the other hand, if the narrative we live emphasizes community, collective well-being, a desire for everyone to win, inclusivity, power with, and related characteristics, these elements will determine the shape of the society we create, and the ways in which it functions. Public policy will emphasize collective and communal responsibility. It will encourage individual initiatives within a framework of collective action and collective well-being. People will feel supported and encouraged by publicly funded institutions. There will be no limit to the good of inclusivity. Everyone will participate in raising the standards of individual and communal well-being. Efforts will be made to ensure that no one lives in poverty, receives a sub-standard education, or is left out of prosperity. Governments will not rely on the evils of gambling, or on the whim of private donations.


Rather than fear, trust develops and grows. A sense of belonging – to each other, to the local community, and to the Earth itself – takes root. Individuals come to know that they are valued as part of the human family and as part of the Earth community. Communal institutions and networks of rights and responsibilities are enhanced. Rather than a battleground, the planet becomes a home in which all feel secure and valued.




New stories, new life


Suffice it to say that if we ignore the overarching and underlying story of our society or culture, we will fail to understand the issues and challenges we face. Without serious reflection on our governing narrative, we will see certain things as inevitable (poverty, for example) and therefore as impossible to change. We will see other things as having no observable cause (for example, some diseases). Only as we begin to see the issues of society (politics, economics, spirituality) within the context of our governing narrative will we be able to develop public policies that can find effective solutions and healthy ways forward.


As I stated at the beginning of this chapter, this is a spiritual issue, for it touches on who we believe we are and how we will relate to each other and to the Earth. In a way, the story of a culture is the spiritual framework in which a culture lives, and moves, and has its being.


I believe the time has come for new, dangerous, and life-giving stories. We need stories that celebrate the amazing biological, racial, and cultural diversity of the Earth, and which, at the same time, illustrate the realities of power, poverty, racism, and all the other ugly things that divide humankind from itself, and from the blessings of the Earth. New stories lead to new understandings, which lead to new agendas, which lead to life abundant. We need new stories to put us in touch with the mystery of life, with its beauty, possibility, danger, and opportunity; with its love, compassion, and tenderness. But first, let’s look at the old story.

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