On Collective Narrative and Ways of Being

Thursday, June 18, 2020

On Thursdays, I Reflect & Self-Educate.

English 210, the principles of rhetoric course I used to teach, defines narrative as a strategy for:

  • understanding situations
  • remembering events
  • advancing points of view.

Currently, at 5:30 p.m., I still haven’t gotten on my bike for today’s interval workout. I want to crawl into bed and cry; I’m resisting by:

  • leaning into a narrative about collective uprising
  • filling my water bottles
  • putting on my bike kit.

A friend gave me the narrative I’m leaning into. “Systems in our country are collapsing,” she said, “we should let the lives we have constructed burn down as well, so rebuilding comes from a more equal place.”

By appealing to collective uprising, this narrative affirms I am not alone. It also validates the anger I feel at what I have lost in the last 6 months: my job, my health insurance, my partner of 8 years, my home, my self-efficacy as an athlete, my confidence in the neurodivergent brain inside my head. And it gives me two options: I can crawl back in bed, or I can stand in the fire with people I respect, ready to rebuild on a more solid foundation.

The first step is to not be paralyzed by fear of the fire. For me, this means a slow launch from my oversized beanbag chair onto my bike.

In Rising Strong, Brene Brown writes, “We can choose courage or we can choose comfort, but we can’t have both. Not at the same time.” Courage to not crawl back into bed. Courage to say “I deserve better.” Courage to demand better by getting on my bike and riding until 10:30 at night. Courage to claim my part in a collective uprising. Courage to do the heavy lifting for others experiencing more loss, more rights taken away.

If this were English 210, I would ask my students to look at the narrator’s exigence. Exigence is the need or desire to respond in a situation. To understand exigence, it can help to inspect narratives for:

Ways of being

Ways of creating, sharing, using values

Ways of knowing

When the dust settles, I want scattered girls—& all their friends—to find a place in this world on and off the bike. My exigence is hidden somewhere in that statement.

I’ll be back tomorrow on a lighter note, with homemade cinnamon rolls in hand (and instructions for making them on a camp stove).

Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.

― Brené Brown, Rising Strong


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