The Myth of National Stories

Unless you live in a cave, you are no doubt aware that a couple of bombs were recently detonated near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.  Before that, some guy killed his own mother, stole her guns and went on a shooting rampage at an elementary school of all places.  Tragedies.  Heartbreaking tragedies that make you thankful that your kid didn’t attend Sandy Hook Elementary or that you weren’t on pace for a 4 hour marathon in Boston on Tax Day.  Other tragedies such as the Joplin tornado or Gulf Oil spill come to mind as recent tragic events that got our nation’s attention.  Or at least got the media’s attention.  But did any of the aforementioned tragedies keep you awake at night?


Quick: What is the unemployment rate in Seattle?  My guess is you don’t know.  Nor do you care.  There seems to be a causal relationship between caring and knowing.  How many people will die of AIDS in Miami-Dade county this year?  You probably don’t know that number either.  Nor do I, for the record.

Have you ever stopped and considered that the US is just too big and too abstract for us to be emotionally invested in?  Is the unemployment rate of Seattle more meaningful than Vancouver, Canada?  It is for the ‘Buy American’ crowd.  It isn’t for me.  Does an oil spill off of the coast of Mississippi actually cause you more anxiety than a similar spill off the coast of Africa?  How can we possibly ‘care’ about all of these so-called National Stories?

Where am I going with this?  I have come to understand that there are only 2 kinds of stories in life:  Tribal stories and human stories.  There is no such thing as a national story and anyone peddling national stories is probably looking for money or power or both.  You don’t care about the Boston bombing.  Unless your brother was running in the race.  What percentage of Americans can actually name 1 single kid that was tragically killed at Sandy Hook?  I know I can’t.  My point is this: all of those stories, tragic by every definition, are tragic because they are human stories, but do not elicit care or concern from me because they did not involve my tribe.  And they are not MORE tragic because they happened to Americans!!!!  Had a bomb gone off at the finish line of the London Marathon my reaction would have been 100% the same!  I would have probably been happier only because it wouldn’t have dominated the TV programming for the next few days.

Politicians need to create national stories to validate their own quest for your power.  The media needs to do the same, except they seek ratings.  But if you are honest, there really is no such thing as a national story.  If you love Boston or Marathons than my guess the story was meaningful to you.  But that is because it affected your ‘tribe’, your people if you will.  If you don’t care about Boston or Marathons than you no doubt went about your day like normal.

Don’t get me wrong, those events are still tragic.  But only because we share a common connection in our humanity.  Sharing national citizenship will not make me more emotionally vested in a story.  And in reality, nor will it you.

Stop buying the lies that national stories are important.  If Maine was sold to Canada tomorrow, how would it affect your life?  If you woke up today and found out that the US purchased Haiti, would their recent earthquake become more important to you?  Of course not.  Just over 2 years ago, a massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami rocked Japan.  What a tragedy.  A horrific event to say the least.  But my guess is it garnered the same reaction from you as any of the other tragedies that we have read about in recent memory.  Unless of course your son was on a missions trip to Japan when it happened.  Now it’s tribal. And now it is meaningful.

What are the ramifications for eliminating the National Story narrative from you thinking?  I leave you to wrestle with that question.

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