Many of us feel frustrated and appalled at how little facts seem to matter these days, or perhaps more despairingly, how astonishingly they can be manipulated and subverted for partisan gain. But Americans have always initiated great change based on “the facts,” right? How have we come so far from the reason and logic of times past?
The answer is that no such time has ever really existed, especially outside of upper-middle class white male culture. Historically in media, countless peoples, events, and movements were simply left out completely, and if journalism seemed saner, that is because many deep and difficult issues were not really discussed.
The revolutions and visionary leaders who've championed each new stage of liberty-consciousness have certainly used facts to assist these movements, but the strange life of “facts” has always been contentious and easily manipulated.
When the United States was founded, the near-religious devotion to reason and science was of course essential and a fundamentally radical idea – the cornerstone of the greatest human attempt at personal liberty: the separation of church and state.
Ironically, it is in reason and science that we can find some new, emerging insights into why we can no longer depend solely on facts to save, unite, or heal us.
Two of the most recent and compelling scientific findings are: firstly, from quantum mechanics and microbiology, that we are infinitely more interconnected than traditional western science had so far supposed. A full-scale, cultural realization of interconnectedness will motivate us toward meaningful, life-sustaining change more powerfully than facts and figures and horrifying news stories ever will. In other words, so long as we feel separate- from each other, from the Earth, from even our closest companions- we will be hard pressed to be truly moved to find lasting solutions, even with blatant facts staring us down.
And second, that social science widely agrees, at least on some level, that we create our own reality. Not just as some fanciful, New-Age dream, but actually as a social and even physical act of self-preservation. That we need to belong in order to function, and that in order to belong we are apt to ascribe to an in-group that facilitates that feeling of belonging.
Furthermore, current social science is finding that knowledge is not an objective set of values or facts “out there,” but a highly subjective process wherein we learn and form ideas based on interaction with each other and what we have so far experienced.
Thus, we have entered the Age of Constructivism: the truth is, there is no universal truth and there never will be. Understanding is the only way to "truth" now.
Many of us instinctually know this, yet often still say, “well of course we’re all different, but ultimately we want the same things. We all need to eat, need water, need love, shelter, education, access to healthcare, freedom.”
This idea of universality, while striving to be inclusive, was a necessary but now obsolete stepping stone. The next realization is that, while broadly it’s true that we all need these things, specifically there is little broad consensus...
What food, when and how much? How will it be grown, prepared, and served? What kind of love do we want, when and where and with whom? What sort of healthcare is sufficient? What makes a house a home? Freedom? Safety? What constitutes equality for all?
Even among those who generally agree that, for example, institutional racism is a fact, there is wide disagreement upon where it’s most prevalent, how to dismantle it, how to protest, legislate or resist it.
How do we move forward? We must begin by asking ourselves, what story am I consuming? What Story am I telling myself? What unexamined assumptions do I treat as fact?
There is a deep and abiding propaganda machine that uses facts as well as so-called moral responsibility to continually oppress, dehumanize, divide and profit from people. Fact or not, I often feel as though many of our leaders, media "personalities" and citizens are (perhaps innocently, perhaps not) living in a vast and ancient bubble, one surely about to burst. I cannot personally abide hateful acts built on gutless fictions that parade as facts in some people’s hearts. We all have our lines in the sand.
But behind that over-simplified, dualistic media machine is a wide arc of complex individuals and beings, neighborhoods and ecosystems. We can no longer afford to ascribe to groups or even ideas one small-minded truth.
With the addition of millions of voices added to a now very public, accessible, dynamic discussion, we are discovering what true diversity looks like.
As we discover what true diversity looks like, the immediate impulse is to move even more deeply into our in-group(s). This impulse, while outwardly unnerving, is simultaneously bringing us more deeply into our inner selves. It’s an uncomfortable, awkward, and dangerous time for our culture. Most true inner work is.
As we move inwards, we begin to recognize the cultural, ethnic, religious and political beliefs, and personal experiences that we bring to every “fact” we read.
Many would argue that this is not happening, that indeed many people are becoming more hateful, more cocooned in their small-minded beliefs. I would say to the skeptics: Law of Cure… we get sicker before we feel better on the healing journey.
The amount of outward hate and Love happening right now, the election of and resistance to an unqualified, contentious candidate, the failings of major cornerstone institutions- are sure signs of being rattled to the core of our long-held narratives, as they transform or collapse in front of our very eyes. Exposed to the light, they are now available for deeper healing and solution-making.
We've entered the Age of the Story. A powerful time where consciousness around our stories- the ones we tell ourselves, the ones we consume, the ones we are willing to re-write- become infinitely more game-changing than any facts ever will.
Many of us are beginning to realize this (Bombilore was founded on this!), and turn our gaze in the direction of narrative. Not in replacement of fact, but in relationship to it. What’s the story we’re telling ourselves/being told? Is it really true? Does it work? Is it helping or harming (us, our loved ones, the planet, the “other”)?
Which facts are so immaculate and substantive that we are unwilling to waiver in our belief of them? A few that stand out for me: climate change is real, inordinate numbers of black men are imprisoned compared to white, and the world is less violent than ever before. But the story I tell myself about these facts is infinitely more important than the fact itself.
Think about all the different stories you could tell yourself about each fact. Notice how your dominant story tries to crowd out all the other possibilities. It doesn't mean we waiver from what we vehemently believe to be true- but it's one way to bring others into a more compassionate place by doing so ourselves first.
Diversity is our greatest asset. We don't need to all live in the same reality and we never will. But we do have to make some decisions on just a few things that we can specifically agree on, knowing that even THAT agreement will show up and be activated in many ways.
The way to do this is to search for the values beneath the facts we believe. To move away from the arduous, heated work of convincing others to believe the facts, and instead tell stories about why we believe what we believe. When stories are told, common ground is found, or at least understanding.
Many would say we don’t have time for storytelling. We can’t afford to take the time to change other people’s stories or even our own. As we experience the death of fact-as-ultimate, as we experience the suffering and near-collapse of the old stories of separation and dominance, I would say that we can’t afford not to. The Story is what will change, or fail to change, our future.
header photo red: aMAZE art installation, Southbank Centre
Amanda Verdery Young is Bombilore's founder and Editor in Chief. She helps conscious businesses bring their missions to life, online and beyond, through development, content marketing and web design. She lives to explore the far reaches of heart, land, and creativity alongside two wild Aries companions- her husband and son- in Portland, Oregon.