This excerpt is from Sapiens:
Any large-scale human cooperation – whether a modern state, a medieval church, an ancient city or an archaic tribe – is rooted in common myths that exist only in peoples collective imagination. Churches are rooted in common religious myths. Two Catholics who have never met can nevertheless go together on crusade or pool funds to build a hospital because they both believe that God was incarnated in human flesh and allowed Himself to be crucified to redeem our sins. States are rooted in common national myths. Two Serbs who have never met might risk their lives to save one another because both believe in the existence of the Serbian nation, the Serbian homeland and the Serbian flag. Judicial systems are rooted in common legal myths. Two lawyers who have never met can nevertheless combine efforts to defend a complete stranger because they both believe in the existence of laws, justice, human rights – and the money paid out in fees. Yet none of these things exists outside the stories that people invent and tell one another. There are no gods in the universe, no nations, no money, no human rights, no laws, and no justice outside the common imagination of human beings. People easily understand that ‘primitives’ cement their social order by believing in ghosts and spirits, and gathering each full moon to dance together around the campfire. What we fail to appreciate is that our modern institutions function on exactly the same basis.
We called our church theStory as a way to identify with and proclaim a very specific story that all of us agreed to and held to. So for the last ten years, I’ve been aware of stories. You start to realize that everything is stories. Everything we believe about ourselves, our friends and our lives can be stripped back to reveal the stories that we believe. In seeing this, it completely removed the categories of truth and fiction from my life. There was no such thing as truth. There was no such thing as fiction. Everything is stories. My story is just my story, and I believe a similar to story to others and very different than others. But there is no scale that determines one story to be more true than another. The primary way of understanding a story isn’t on whether it is true or not, but rather on if it shared or not.
A helpful example of this for me has been that of money. Money isn’t true or right. We would never use those words to describe it. However, money is the most persuasive and integrated belief that almost every living human being believes in. This gives it remarkable power and makes it very real. Because there is a shared belief about what it is, it takes on meaning. The more that believe in it, the more powerful and persuasive it is. A world will never exist where money doesn’t rule every aspect of it, and it is nothing but a made up shared belief.
Everything is a story. Uncovering those stories is critical to understanding what motivates and binds us. We need to stop trying to prove the truth of one story over another. We need to stop elevating our own stories above everyone else’s and learn our own stories inside and out. Make new stories. Challenge stories that lead to death and suffering. Tell stories that lead to life and justice. True and false is an unhelpful dichotomy to try and force stories into . Good and Evil, life and death, love and indifference might be better categories to understand these stories. Thinking your stories are true only makes you feel right, and others feel wrong. And when you feel like that, you see people differently, and are unable to see them as human.
Sharing a story makes it more real than anything else will. No evidence or logic can make a story real. It might get you closer to believing it, but it won’t make it real. Being with others that believe the same story as you is what makes it come to life. We should ask ourselves. What stories do we believe about who we are, where we came from, why we love, where we are going? By seeing them for what they are we have an incredible capacity to alter our future and to ensure that they are the stories we want to live into and and pass on.
The universe is made up of stories, not of atoms.
– Muriel Rukeyser