“Tell them stories. They need the truth. You must tell them true stories, and everything will be well. Just tell them stories.”
– The Amber Spyglass
The first time I read The Amber Spyglass and got to the above excerpt, I thought, how cool would it be if telling true stories had so much power, that everything would be well.
This is one of the truest stories I’ve ever read. I first came across it several months ago and think about it almost daily – which makes sense to me, given that almost every day I am interacting with at least one or two people I love, even if in the most mundane ways (though even thinking about those mundane interactions still rings glow and glory to me because they are with people I love).
It didn’t change how I think about love so much as clarified what it means for me to love. I feel like this story defines love leagues better than any abstract explanation I’ve heard; I can understand it deeply, a definition that transcends denotative statement. I can mentally cycle through friends/family/old flames/etc., asking about each, “Do I love them?”, and if the emotional weight of that story seems to be a true representation of my feelings about and concern for that given person, then I have a good idea, or at least a better idea than I did before. In my opinion, this story has helped me tell truer stories to myself about people in my life, where they stand, what they mean to me. True stories beget true stories?
Over the past year or so, I feel like I’ve had to shed a lot of things that were causing me to not be honest, not tell true stories about who I was or what I thought about the self-aware existence of human beings. I was trying to please a lot of people I love, trying to avoid disappointing them and so forced myself into a state of near-constant stress and cognitive dissonance. None of it was easy, and it’s still not easy, but much harder would be holding on to warped views of human suffering, existence, and what qualifies as truth to maintain status quo.
Now, because I am thinking and speaking honestly, I feel I’m in a place where being taught how to tell true stories for others to hear/read is not an automatic waste of mine or someone else’s time. Were I still afraid to be honest with myself about my most basic beliefs, to some extent it would be futile – if I can’t tell true stories to myself about who I am and what I think about the most fundamental questions human beings ask, how could I tell true stories about anything else to anyone else? I’m not sure it’d be possible.
More and more I’m realizing just how much it matters whether stories we tell are true, that they do have so much power. What we say about how certain diseases are spread and prevented, who our ancestors killed or enslaved or were killed or enslaved by, or gods that allow most humans who have ever lived to experience the worst possible suffering indefinitely absolutely affects tangible, day-to-day experience. I think what the Catholic Church says about condoms is killing people in areas where HIV/AIDS is rampant, and I think people who are telling stories of children used as bullet shields in the Philippines are not only saving lives, but calling those who hear to a higher level of awareness and compassion for some of the most extreme human suffering present on this planet.
Our stories matter so much, and I think we have a responsibility to make sure, as much as we can, that they are true – whether, per given case, that means objective truth, emotional truth, or both (since I’ve mentioned both here without prior differentiation; my bad). We probably can’t make everything well, but I can’t imagine why we wouldn’t want to try anyway.