Myths soothe the world

Good Life

Desires set the future in motion. The difficult territory to navigate is when we hold conflicting desires. We want a well funded public health system but we also want to pay less taxes. We want to exercise but we also want to lie on the couch. We want to have more but we don’t want others to have less than us.

Holding conflicting desires is deeply uncomfortable. So, what do we do? We tell stories. We invent myths. We build patterns of interpreting the world that reduce the discomfort.

  • Cinderella: The prince and the maid are equals despite all of the obstacles.
  • Star Wars: Good guy battles bad guy for moral future of the planet. There’s always a bad guy, and the bad guy isn’t like us.
  • I’ll exercise tomorrow.

Where progress sucks is that, in achieving it, we can’t have everything we want. We can’t have additional comforts, luxuries, and benefits without sacrificing some of our deeply held beliefs, challenging our assumptions, and losing things we value. In Objects of Desire (1986), author Adrian Forty writes:

It is a peculiarity of capitalism that each beneficial innovation also brings a sequence of other changes, not all of which are desired by all people so that, in the name of progress, we are compelled to accept a great many distantly related and possibly unwanted changes. The idea of progress, though, includes all the changes, desirable as well as undesirable.

Inventing myths helps us deal with change, but it can also hold us back. Take the good guy/bad guy myth, and climate change. Climate change is our collective responsibility, but putting people into good and bad camps creates division. Stories about good and bad guys; ‘invest an individual’s entire social identity in him not changing his mind about a moral issue – perversely end up discouraging any moral deliberation.’'

We must ensure the stories we tell ourselves create the reality we want. As Esther Perel says, ‘it’s not about letting go of what’s led us to this moment, it’s about writing new chapters for change.’