Do We Write Our Own Story? (157)

In this podcast John and Gregg team up to discuss the notion that Gregg raised in Episode #153, where he rejects the idea that we “write our own stories.”

John finds the idea of writing one’s own story to be very important, to the point the we are “victims” if we do not.  Gregg wonders if he and John are using this term in the same way, despite the fact that John’s sense of the notion may be the more prevalent one.

On John’s view, the notion of writing one’s story is aspirational.  And one may not achieve what one is aspiring to.  Gregg notes that one’s story and one’s understanding of identity are closely related.

So Gregg is critical of cases where people use this notion of “writing one’s own story” to legitimate the full scope of their personal history.  In other words, he is critical of cases where people claim that the entirety of the events of their lives are good because these events have contributed to them being “where they are now.”

In other words, with this particular view of self-authoring there is only affirmation of one’s choices, actions, etc. and never critique!  Or, events and choices that run counter (or undermine) the current life story are often underplayed (if not ignored).  The result, as Gregg sees it, is these self-authored stories are almost always “counter factual.”  They contain (and sometimes promote) lies, and lies related to one’s identity.

Gregg explains his view of “narrative identity” as having and / or relying on three components:

  1. The events that took place in the past (history),
  2. The story that I have written, as an autobiography, about these past events and how I have acted—and suffered—through them (historiography),
  3. One’s “personal story,” which is the understanding of myself and my actions, goals, etc., in the present.

In Gregg’s view, he is not the only person who is (or should be) involved in the process of understanding his own “personal story.”  In fact, he recommends seeking critical feedback on how we have understood or interpreted events that are critical to our stories as a way of developing our skills at understanding (and indeed, loving) ourselves and others.

So in terms of our own, personal stories, Gregg argues that each of us is essentially trying to occupy “the narrator’s position:” to narrate our lives.  This is the closest that human being ever get to “writing” their own stories, and Gregg see narrating (rather than writing) our personal stories as more realistic because human beings both act and suffer.  In other words, despite our best intentions and abilities, we are not in control of how the story plays unfolds or finishes.

Based on the view of self-authoring that Gregg is criticizing, John notes that people seem to be adept at “letting themselves off the hook,” and wonders how Christianity combats this?

Gregg notes that Christianity highlights this fact by explaining how human beings are fallible, finite, and fallen.  Specifically, fallenness indicates that we are people who act in ways that undermine our own best interest, while claiming not to do so!  This amounts to the understanding that humans have a propensity toward self-deception.  From this notion, Gregg argues that we as human beings are not always the most trustworthy or best “directors” of their own lives.

John wonders: where does Gregg see the type of self-authoring that he is critical of?

Gregg explains that he sees this both among Christians and non-Christians, though he has experienced this most on the West coast (as a phenomenon that has been called “West coast spirituality”).  And the biggest problem that Gregg sees with it is that those holding such views have essentially immunized themselves against critique.  So a major theme in such story-telling is that people are telling themselves things like: “I’m a good person,” or “I do the things that God wants me to,” etc.

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