The novelist Terry Pratchett once wrote, “people think that stories are shaped by people. In fact, it’s the other way around.” However it seems these types of dichotomies are often both/and more than they are either/or. It is true that we are shaped by the stories that we inherit, but we are also co-creating these stories through the actions that we consciously — or unconsciously — take. It might be closer to the truth to see as us and our stories as co-emerging and co-evolving.
All stories worth telling are essentially about the transformation of relationship. Whether it is the relationship between a person and themselves, between two people, between a people and a place, or all of the above. In a good story, characters grow and evolve in the context of events that help them to deepen their own understanding of their purpose within the systems in which they exist. These systems are stories in themselves — one level nested within another in either direction, to a degree that we don’t fully comprehend.
The story of Humanity is an incredibly fascinating one. In a sense it is so complex that it could never be fully told. Yet we can identify the general patterns of this story to better understand why things have turned out the way they have. How have our fundamental relationships — with ourselves, amongst ourselves, with the places we inhabit — evolved over the course of its unfolding?
We might see it all as an emergence of purpose, whereby we can ask ourselves: what is the rightful role of humanity on Earth? We have inherited a narrative in which humans are the owners and dominators of the planet, which evolved into the “responsible owner” of the well-intentioned sustainability movement. In this we cling to the idea that it is our destiny to gain complete control of our place — yet in the back of our minds we somehow know that we cannot, and our stories are tragedies ending in doom and death. As far as we are shaped by our stories we are spearheading the fulfillment of those grim destinies painted there.
On the other hand, many are waking up to the nature of the human storyteller: one that does more than imitate and repeat those inherited narratives but points them forward to help guide us in the shaping of our own future. We learn from them what does and does not work. For the human being, they are what drives adaptation; they are very much alive.