Hard Times, Shared Sense- making and Personal Myths
White water abounds. Events pound us and cross currents push us about. We pull off to the side of the river, but we find little respite there as we lug our battered craft out of the water. Rather, we find worries aplenty and, for many, too much time to fret.
Advice also abounds as we set up camp with a few others, perhaps with no others, at least not physically. We need to connect with others to tell our stories of the day, regularly and as intimately as possible because, as Robert Gunther and I wrote in Your Job Survival Guide, “The more intimate the telling, the greater and fuller the appreciation of the drama and treasure resident in our journeys.” (p. 153) We need, in other words, to serve as attentive audiences for one another—if not in person around a campfire then on a video chat and if not there then by phone and if not there then by document (no not Twitter!), perhaps even a letter, and if not there then by email and if not…
That telling benefits, in turn, from our own sense of our own myth. Myth has gotten a bad name in our times, a word used to dismiss the misinformed belief of another, ‘oh, that’s just a myth’. Myths, however, explain. That is their traditional purpose and their first dictionary definition. They imbue meaning to events, practices, phenomena of nature, and our lives. They are the story that we tell ourselves about who we are. Myths center our transitory selves amidst the temporary and the transcendent and the turbulent. They provide the basis for us to navigate and to assist others in their navigation, especially those who depend upon us. Myths provide, in effect, our answer to ‘Why?’ Is the answer correct? Who knows.
The ancient Celts, thousands of years before Kierkegaard, in summary, put it something like this, “Do not do what you do because you expect some reward from the gods, for such is not their nature. Do not rage at the gods for not providing a reward for such is the action of a child. Do what you do, choose what you choose because it defines your life—indeed it defines life itself.” (YJSG, p. 159)
Therefore, take time off river to visit your personal myth. Explore it. Refine it. Take refuge in it. And, back at the campfire, however virtual, share it… and listen closely to the myths of others. Social distancing need not, after all, distance us from one another. Quite the contrary, because, particularly in these times, we all have stories to tell.
Be well. Stay well.