The narrative is the container for all the different stories we tell each other. Some of the stories are public, that the whole world knows, others are public to our social circles, others are considered private even though many people may know the story (it just isn’t supposed to be spread to others), and some are just in our heads.
We are very sensitive to the narrative in all of its contexts. If someone tells us something that happened, based on the way that it is told, it becomes part of one or all of our stories. The way we treat people is based partially on our understanding of the stories we share in common in the narrative. Sometimes, a new twist in the narrative can change how we view all of the other stories in the narrative as well.
Our own personal narrative, which is part public and part private, determines a lot about how we interact with others. It is more difficult to interact with people who have conflicting stories in their narrative, without some required distance.
Each relationship has a shared narrative, the story of the two people. Friends, neighbors, co-workers, we all have the shared narrative, and we all obey according to how the narrative makes us out to be (which can be slightly different for each shared narrative in each relationship).
When something significant happens, there are cues to sync up the shared narrative about what happened. If there are disagreements, sometimes each person will consult others on the side to gain support for their version of the story, and gain confidence that even though the other person doesn’t fully agree, that consensus says that this is what actually happened. And by sharing the story with others, your shared narrative with them also shifts, and the part of the story that happened in one relationship now has a bigger audience and therefore more weight.
Things can get ugly around here, if people become too attached to the narrative. People might talk bad about others behind their back in order to make them look better. Or people might try to force other people to agree to their version of the story by telling it over and over again until it becomes, by default, the “official” version of the story. Sometimes, the truth becomes obscured because one person or another didn’t fight enough for that story to enter the narrative. At that point, it doesn’t matter what happened, the narrative moves on, history is written, and the sub-narrative is shelved until someone tries to bring it back.
The narrative is fascinating to me. It’s a way of viewing personality, stories, gossip, fear, passion, success, and failure that rings true with me these days. It’s a shared story that has its own rules, rules outside of the rules of fairness or truth, and are more in line with the rules of entertainment, social hierarchy, and fun. And it’s not all-powerful. I think truth is still a more powerful entity, it’s just not always in the foreground. History, in a way, could be interpreted as an eternal battle between truth and the narrative.