Sunday, May 2, 2021

Restorying Hope

Yes, that title is a typo that I found in something I wrote, but it led to some intriguing revelations. First off, the way story and store are related. One stores images, characters, situations, ideas, etc. in an easily retrievable form with table of contents, sentences and paragraphs, chapters, and index. The other stores things that are useful, practical, even necessary (food) on organized and labeled shelves, with inventory to help locate them as needed. Thus, a story is a storehouse that we can go to time and time again to get what we need. The more stories in the storehouse, the more life choices open up to us, the richer our capacity to think and imagine. 


In what perhaps was an urban legend, Einstein was asked by an overbearing parent how to make her son smart like him. He replied:


“That’s simple. Tell him fairy tales?”


“Fairy tales? No, you don’t understand. I don’t want a dreamer. I want him to be a scientist or mathematician, one of those really smart thinkers like you.”


“Oh, I see. Well, in that case, tell him more fairy tales.”


Not only did Einstein understand the deep connection between intuition, imagination and intellect, but he also understood that math and science are about pattern perception and recognition and the fairy tales are filled with situations (often in patterned groups of three) that train the brain to recognize and begin to predict solutions to problems. 


Now notice the word restore. In practical terms, it means to re-stock the shelves in the store when we run out of items. Psychologically it meant to return to an original state after depletion or loss. But later it came to mean to refresh, to rejuvenate, to renew, to renovate, implying that something new needs to enter for full restoration to occur. 


And I think both are true. Psychologically to be restored can mean to return to some childhood foundation of wonder, curiosity, humor, connection that has been depleted during the trials and tribulations of adulthood. But it can also mean having new experiences that broaden and widen your perspective, open your heart and mind a bit larger. 


So what would it take to restore hope? Yes, return to that wide-eyed kid you were before your optimism was beaten down by years of the daily news. But also changing the story that never worked well that keeps being told. And also telling the stories we don’t know but need to in order to tell a better one. In her book Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male Supremacy, Ijeoma Uluo tells the revealing stories of toxic whiteness and masculinity that have caused—and continue to cause— so much harm and horror in the world. In her foreword, she makes clear why it’s important to tell these stories: 


Let’s tell these stories, so that we may learn how to write better ones to come.


And in that way, re-story hope.


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