I’ve been thinking a lot about storytelling and how stories wire and rewire our brains. The way facts can obscure the truth. The way a tiny whisper can overpower a scream.
How a story is told alters the truth that emerges from the narrative. Stories can drive us apart from each other, and they can illuminate our common humanity. Stories teach us new perspectives.
As a fiction writer, I am not necessarily bound by facts. I do, however, feel beholden to truth. But as we stand here together on the rubble of 2020, how do we even discern what truth is?
This election season has been an exercise in truth-telling and truth-denying. It has been a colossal experiment in story. No longer do voters simply ask, Which facts do I believe? They ask Which story resonates with me? Which narrative do I choose to believe?
We all know that data can be manipulated. Facts and figures can be selectively pieced together to convey a predetermined message. Polls can be wrong. So, so wrong. When I look back on the 2020 election, I will not remember the voter turnout in Florida or the number of mail-in ballots from Michigan.
I will remember the picture of a young girl being torn away from her parents by border control agents. I will remember the faces of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. I will remember the devastation of historic forest fires and record-breaking hurricanes that crashed into Gulf Coast communities. I will remember the captivating eyes of Selena Reyes-Hernandez, one of the many transgender people murdered in our country this year. I will remember the refrigeration trucks filled with victims of COVID-19 lined up outside New York City hospitals.
These are the stories, the truths that moved me in 2020.
But another version of 2020 also exists. This other version includes brave militias valiantly defending Confederate statues, unmasked customers asserting their ‘right’ to shop mask-free, proud sports fans clinging to culturally appropriated team mascots while ignoring the Indigenous people they disrespect.
One America. Two stories.
The problem is that most of us live in echo chambers and hear the same plotlines parroted back to us from our like-minded friends and insular social media circles. We tune in to the news we agree with, unfriend the people whose narratives deviate from ours.
Our truth becomes the only truth.
Fiction, however, is a stealthy device, a Trojan horse that sneaks different perspectives in unnoticed. Story presents an opportunity to share the truths we believe in with people outside our bubbles. [Read more…]