Besides the obvious sex appeal of the Klingon character Worf, the show “Star Trek: The Next Generation” was well worth watching for its fascinating examination of the human condition in settings far from our time on planet Earth. Gene Rodenberry’s genius included addressing controversial topics such as drug addiction in the episode entitled “Symbiosis.” Another episode that sticks with me was “Darmok.” This engaging show involved Picard and his crew trying to communicate with a race whose language is not known to the universal translator. Turns out these aliens speak in metaphor. How about that? They communicate through story.
Recent political events have prompted me to think about the concept of “story” in a new way. As writers, we deal with story every day, whether we are creating a blog, editorial, advertorial, article, short story, poem, novel, how-to book … you get the picture. By sharing experiences, in whatever form, we engage in storytelling, which is at the root of our anthropological heritage. From the time someone first used a stone to carve a stick figure into a cave wall and agreed on specific markings to represent sounds, we have been saying to others, “Hey, look at me, look at this, here’s what happened.” Our greatest hope is that someone else will look at it/read it and say, “Hey, that happened to me, too” or “Wow, that’s terrible” or “Gee, that’s fantastic.”
When events as explosive as the recent U.S. election occur, the sharing of stories has a massive impact on society, before, during and after. Stories are used to persuade, dissuade, move, anger, delight, entertain and even mislead. We have seen a kaleidoscope of these via the media and social media, and with so many unreliable “news” sources out there, it’s difficult to know what to believe. That’s why I prefer to speak with and converse with people who are living the realities created by our politicians. Ironically, I do this through groups on social media, among other avenues.
Stories – previously untold stories – are rising to the top of people’s verbal agendas, and those who were silenced before by intimidation and downright threats are coming together to speak as one voice … to tell their stories so that others understand. The new story is, in fact, an old one, and is an example of how clichés such as “history repeating itself” become clichés. There is so much truth to them that they take on the nature of “ubiquity.” Although frowned upon by literary types, clichés often convey deep truths in just a handful of words.
What fascinates me about the current obsession with the U.S. election is the realization of how different people’s stories can be, depending on which “side” they are on, and even within those sides. We come at all elections carrying our own baggage (cliché intended) from the journeys we are on. The difference is that for far too long, some of us have kept our stories to ourselves because of the humiliation and embarrassment heaped upon us by those who exploit their abilities to intimidate and frighten. Hopefully, those days are gone (yup, another cliché – live with it). People en masse are saying in their out-loud voices, “I’m here; I’m valid; I’m standing up for what I know is right.” There are those who categorize people by race, religion, gender, sexual preference, etc., and would have you believe that those who are not white males are “other.” The older I get, the more I research and the more I write, the more I realize there is no such thing as “other.” We are all human, and we all have stories that have brought us to today. For some, the tales are tragic and violent; for some, they are joyful and optimistic.
As writers, we must transform our attitudes into the points of view of our characters and even our non-fiction subjects to represent them in an honest way. Right now, it is more important than ever to think about why those who disagree with us about government have come to their points of view. Whichever side you are on, it is worthwhile to listen to what everyone has to say and consider it. Understanding is key, and until understanding becomes ubiquitous, we are looking at history repeating itself forever.