Stop Thinking and Listen: Defining Narratives and How They Are Used

Updated on October 1, 2017
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Stop Thinking and Listen: Defining Narratives and How They are Used

The word “narrative” has been found more and more across the many forms of media we have available today. It can be referenced or found in everything from political commentaries to celebrity award shows. When discussions on any form of social issue is brought to the forefront of a conversation is when it is seen most. While it may seem simple to understand the word at face value, there is a level of complexity to what a narrative truly is. In order for those on the receiving end of the narrative to truly understand it’s purpose or intention, seeing through the context of the narrative and into its motives is imperative. A narrative can be a powerful tool of influence especially when presented to a national/global audience. A truly effective narrative is one that is well supported by other influential figures and is seen as genuine through logical discernment. One important aspect to remember when evaluating a narrative is this: not all narratives a nefarious or bad.

We all have narratives and make use of narratives throughout our lives. From an individual view, a narrative is used to help define who you are as well as how you interact with others in the world. We all seek to control the narrative that people perceive about us. We want people to perceive us as nice so we share stories about we have helped others. For those that want to be perceived as smart, they may share their academic accomplishments with a person upon meeting them so that the future narrative is set. We use narratives to influence other people within our own lives to believe what we want them to believe about us. Our personal narratives are formed by the incredible number of physical and social interaction we have. Furthermore, they can be changed by our perception. The most practical view of how we each employ a narrative for our own gain can be seen in a job interview.

During an interview, there is (in most cases) perceived risk for the interviewee. In some cases, there is even a level of desperation. This usually causes the interviewee to desire to control the interview as much as possible in an effort to increase the odds that he or she will be selected for the position. How does the individual do this? By giving a sheet of positive information/accomplishments to the interviewing prior to them even meeting. The sheet I am referring to is of course a resume. When creating this positive personal fact sheet, we are attempting to create the narrative that we are the perfect person for the position. We are attempting to present ourselves in a manner that will manipulate the interviewer. To be clear I am making no claim to not having done this myself nor am I implying that those that do are being dishonest. Manipulation is a part of everyday communication and it cannot be escaped or unequipped by anyone interacting with other people. Instead I am trying to demonstrate how manipulation is used in an everyday setting as well as demonstrating just how close to home narratives truly are. A narrative is not complete without it’s intended audience and with that said let us discuss the reception of a narrative.

Continuing on through the previous example, the interviewer is going to examine your resume and with any luck, call you for a meeting. The purpose of the meeting will be to determine the validity of your resume and evaluate whether or not you are truly the type of person your resume describes. In essence, the interviewing is going to take a closer look at the supporting information regarding the narrative you provided before choosing to support it or disregard it. Interestingly enough, this can be seen as an extremely effective process for evaluating narratives on a much grander scale. As stated in my previous article, Follow the Truth: Intellectual Honesty and Spotting Deception, understanding how we as individuals use social mechanisms to influences ourselves and others allows a better understanding of larger social agencies doing the same.

Political narratives are used to influence large groups of individuals into supporting a specific candidate or party. A prime example that is not only relevant but also still ongoing is the debacle regarding the recent failed repeal and replace attempt made by the republican senate. Supporters of the republican party rallied around their representatives since the induction of the Affordable Care act trusting in the party’s unanimous promise of repeal. For years the Republican party gained steam from pushing that narrative that they would be able to repeal the bill if they were given enough power to do so. Now, in the present, we see that this was truly never the case due to an incredibly divided party and have seen little more than halfhearted attempts at following through with their narrative. Let me be very clear that though the affordable care act is still in place, the narrative worked.

A narrative on this scale has little to do with actual action and everything to do with perception. The perception of those supporting the republican party was influenced by the parties claims to make the changes they desired if they were able to receive the votes they needed. Whether or not the republican party truly had any interest repealing and replacing Obama care remains to be seen, however, it is clear that an influential narrative was employed to garner votes and was very effective. Every narrative requires it’s intended audience to commit themselves to a certain action or perception. The actual motives behind the narrative, if examined deeper, may have changed the opinion of those receiving it. Which line sounds better to you:

“We are going repeal and replace Obama Care and return health care to the free market!”

Or

“We know that the repeal and replace issue is important to you so for the purpose of votes we are going to claim we will remove it!”

Many would most likely go with the first sentence because it is shorter and gives less direct insight into the less popular motives for politicians. The second may be honest but it does not increase the odds of their constituents voting for them. When receiving any kind of narrative or even something that you may perceive as a narrative, ask what the purpose of it may be. Much like intellectual honesty, evaluate how well the speaker of the narrative lives up to their claims. Then evaluate the purpose of the claim. If you feel as though there is something you are missing regarding the information being presented, there most likely is. A good researcher seeks to disprove their theory through research and does not consider it proven until it is impossible to disprove using the procedural method of that research.

Often political narratives make an attempt to over simplify social issues in an effort to cover various aspects that may be considered incongruent to the established narrative. The narrative that Obama care is bad and must be removed has no room for the large number of individuals that have been helped by the program where as before it they were penalized for having no healthcare. The counter side of the argument that claims Obama care is wonderful and should remain forever will avoid the topic of increased fees and health care costs that our society as a whole has incurred since its induction.

The point here is this: both sides have an agenda that requires a narrative be created to forward it. These agendas are not solely on television or social media and have no effect. From the moment you get out of bed, to saying hello to a colleague and to even read this article is to expose yourself to another person’s agenda. We must examine them and critical review their validity. There is no way to avoid false narratives within our society. As long as human kind has navigated their existence through perception, there will always be attempts to control that perception and to edit or rewrite information in a light that is more favorable toward a particular belief or idea. As our society and countless others before us have demonstrated; it is not the smartest and most well-informed person that is listened to, it is often the first one to shout the loudest in the room. If you don’t believe me, try it sometime.

"in my investigation in the service of the god I found that those who had the highest reputation were nearly the most deficient, while those who were thought to be inferior were more knowledgeable." – Socrates

retrieved from Plato: The Apology of Socrates Translated by Benjamin Jowett

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© 2017 Tylor

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