Do We Believe Our Own Stories?

Written By: Barnali Sarkar

A few summers ago, my husband and I decided to visit the Roman Baths, one of the popular holiday destinations in the UK. We struck up a conversation with one of the ladies who were dressed in Roman attire to add to the ambiance of the place. She offered to share her stories relating to the history of the Roman Baths and we began listening with rapt attention. I wondered aloud that although it was a bath, there were no mirrors anywhere. The lady who was speaking to us retorted that a Roman bathhouse usually had glass on the walls and ceilings. My husband whispered to me cheekily that maybe one of the Romans broke a mirror and they did away with the rest. I stifled a laugh but it drew my attention to the fact that although the Romans had indeed left behind a rich heritage of architectural marvels, they had also gifted a bunch of superstitions to the rest of the world. 


Some stories have powerful narratives transcending time, particularly in the form of superstitions or practices that may even appear absurd bordering on the fringes of sounding illogical. And these have found takers in almost every generation around the world because we live in a world shaped and influenced by stories, particularly those with spellbinding narratives. So are we caught in the web of powerful and gripping narratives? How far should we believe these stories? Should we simply accept them unquestioningly as it seems to be the safest thing to do and in some cases even helps us to avoid unpleasant situations? 


If we take the example of superstitions, most of us would like to argue that even if they are superstitions, there may be some truth in them after all. More so, if these have been accepted and followed by a close family member, why bother about it’s rationality. But if we don our thinking caps, we will realize that it is not the superstitions but the narrative that has held us in its grasp forever….  


So what’s in a narrative? I apologize if I sound almost Shakespearean but a narrative does hold the key to our beliefs and thoughts. This is particularly more evident in kids as they are fascinated by stories. And stories with powerful narratives can inform, amuse, or teach us, or do all these at the same time. But, it can also deceive or influence us by providing inaccurate information, sow the seeds of odd beliefs, or fan the embers of an already existing fear or deep-rooted belief in our minds. 


The term “narrative” comes from two Latin words — narrativus meaning “to tell” and gnarus implying “knowledge”. But many of us seem to dwell on the first part and accept it rather than challenging and thinking logically before connecting it to the second bit. For instance, how many of us question why is it an evil omen if a black cat crosses our path? A strong narrative is not always backed by facts but it is all about impacting our minds and hearts and the way we react to it. 


The challenge lies  not in convincing ourselves about what we do not know but rather in understanding and questioning the oddity of what we already know. A narrative power analysis can weaken the hold that pernicious narratives wield on us. But if narratives that contain the seeds of social change and liberation from illogical/existing beliefs and assumptions are bolstered with factual and relevant information, we can build an unprejudiced world.


I’ll end this piece on a lighter note with some food for thought. Maybe the black cat crossing your path is simply on its way to catch up with friends or worse, You may be blocking its route. Or if you thought about injuring your feet on the shattered pieces of a broken mirror rather than the seven years of bad luck, it would avert bad medical expenses. I wouldn’t like to comment on the seven-year bit though….

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