I do not have an advanced degree in psychology. I am the proud owner of a BA in history which was chosen as the least onerous way I could spend four years. I figured it would involve mostly reading and I liked to read, even then. So, if you need an expert to entertain someone’s thoughts, you may need to stop here.
Like you, I can look out and see a pretty messed up situation. And like you, I think about it. Since I am a writer, I naturally see things as stories, narratives. It occurred to me that we are acting in a child’s narrative. Sally and I have three children and five grandchildren and I have loved and watched each closely. ADD runs in our family, so I have had more occasion to think about their paths. In my view, children are not immoral, they are amoral. That their actions might hurt someone else, or even themselves in the long run does not occur to them. They mostly don’t say to themselves, “that’s bad, but I’m going to do it anyway.” They say, “I want this. Now.”
We are living in a child’s narrative. This narrative’s defining characteristic is ‘Me and not me.’ With rare interruptions, the child sees the world in shades of black and white where the adult has run into blue and red and knows the world to be more complex than that. The fact that we add a year’s chronological age every year doesn’t guarantee that our maturity or awareness grows at the same pace. Many of us get to the end of this particular narrative without gaining much in the way of awareness. If I believed that 80 years is all we have to accumulate greater awareness, I’d be angry, frustrated, and fearful, but since I choose to trust that we have every moment we need to evolve, I don’t entertain fear as often as I might. That is, right up to the point when I buy into the hypnotic, seductive, child’s narrative with all its resentments and anger and sadness. The child within me grabs hold of its ‘Me and not me’ perspective as it leaches all of the colors from the world leaving only black or white. And I am left feeling frustrated and frightened for myself and those I love.
What can I do? Observe first without judgement. Not so easy, but it can be done. Survey the problem and parts of it fall away, but not all. There are action steps to change.
I don’t have to act in this particular play that my ego (child within) is thrilled to produce. Each moment is about choices and the more balanced the mind, the better the choices. Fear is not balance. The child’s narrative (ego) is in business to disconnect you from everyone and everything in order to maintain the illusion of control. Control is the aim of the ego, pure and simple. If the child can control everything, including the adults around him or her, he will be safe. Not true, of course, but that is the child’s underlying motivation. Add in the desire for immediate gratification, and you have the child’s narrative. It’s a story, like any other, but now that I see it, it isn’t the story I want to play in.
So, what can I do? Aren’t I chained to this reality, to this narrative? Not so much. Oh, there are chains all right, but take a good look at them. Do it now. Look at the chains of thought that bind you to anything. Who made those chains? I did, for me. So, can I just make ‘em disappear? Yeah, wouldn’t that be nice. Thing is it took some time to lay down our part in the narrative and it will take some time to dematerialize those chains. Not as much time as our ego wants us to believe, but some. How do I do it?
Not by fighting a war. Every strike at an opponent, while it feels so good in the moment, only solidifies the narrative. Remember, we want to change narratives. At least I do. I’m tired of feeling sad about the chances for my beloved grandchildren to find a satisfying life.
The child’s narrative is a habit we have accepted. Is it possible to change destructive habits? You bet. There are plenty of folks who have beaten horrible addictions. Like the lion in the Wizard of Oz, they aren’t any stronger than you or I, they just decide and do not turn back.
How do I change this habit, this narrative?
When I was in my twenties, I worked as a life guard in a resort in upper state New York. There was one guy there who was so cool. He got all the girls, and was just, for lack of a better description, cool. I aspired to be cool so I watched what he said and did that was so attractive to the opposite sex. He spoke in a very, to me, cool way by adding the word ‘like’ before his sentences. “Like, why don’t we go grab a drink.” Every sentence was preceded by the word ‘like.’ Aha, that’s his secret. As I said, he was cool. So, I added the word into my vocabulary and used it profusely.
My mom had occasion to visit and we went to a Broadway show. Actually, I remember the show, George M with Joel Gray. Great show about George M Cohan. I digress. Afterward we went out to eat. I was talking about something, and she said, “Like what?” I repeated whatever I thought she hadn’t caught or understood. (My mom’s a real smart person and her hearing is fine, so I should have caught on earlier, but it took me a few times.) So, I repeated what I had said, and she again said, “Like what?” I said it again and she echoed “Like what?” Ah. Finally got to me. By that time, I had gotten over how cool this guy was, but my speech hadn’t reflected that awareness.
“I say it a lot, huh?” She just smiled. “Sounds pretty stupid, huh?” Again, she just smiled. (Did I say how smart she is?) Well, I’ll just stop saying the word like. Not so easy. Habit. She helped me. Every time I said “Like,” she’d say, “Like what?” Took me all that night and the next day.
Unfortunately, we don’t have someone saying “Like what?” every time we replay a habit, so they aren’t as easy to change and often take more than a day and a half. Some years later, when I found the less than useful vocal addition, “You know,” had crept into my speech, I decided to delete it. Once again, not so easy. So, I had a choice between listen to the ego, “It’s too hard, you can’t do this. You don’t have anyone to help you.” Or create my own “Like what?” to pry that habit out of there. “I did this once before; I can do it again.” Hah.., (Damn, a semicolon. How pretentious can you get? It was an accident. Windows did it.)
The first few times I actually heard myself saying “You know,” (And there were plenty I didn’t hear.) I was pretty frustrated. I then realized that I wasn’t even hearing it most of the time. So, I began listening for its unwelcome appearance. I decided the first thing was not to get angry at myself as that didn’t seem to speed things up. Just observe. At first, I would hear myself say “You know,” maybe five or six times a day, and each time I would be determined to catch it before I said it and not say it. I managed to ditch the anger and frustration, and I told my ego to go sit on the bench. I was doing this. But it was like that illusive cricket that managed to get into your bedroom. Every time you think about it or move toward it, it quiets down and you can’t find it. Then it starts up and you can’t sleep.
Finally, as I was about to say something to someone, my brain paused for me to act. I chose not to say, “You know.” Victory. I did it. Not so much. Two sentences later, there it was. Crap. Still, what I could do once I could repeat. Took me some time, but I stopped saying, “You know.”
A visual would be if you ran a pencil along a school desk until you’d made a nice trough. Not that you would ever do that. Once the trough (habit) is dug, the pencil goes along easily. Well, yes, but a straight line is boring and I’m, uh, someone, is much more creative than that so let’s make a Y. At first it’s hard to get the pencil out of the rut (habit) I’ve, we’ve dug, but once it jumps the moat, the leg of the Y is created and then with a little application, it’s easier to push the pencil along the new trough (habit) than the old. Will and persistence. And ditch the anger. You might not be able to get to forgiveness, which is way more powerful, but we can just set the anger aside. Remove our attention from it. Not every time at first, but once we get the hang of it, it can be done.
Why should we devote our attention and energy to creating a new narrative, a more adult narrative? The simple answer is it hurts less. And if enough of us refuse to live in the child’s narrative, the script will change. And we and our grandchildren will be in a richer story with greater possibilities to create a more satisfying and happy life.
Award winning, international playwright Elliott B. Baker grew up in Jacksonville, Florida. With four musicals and one play published and done throughout the United States, New Zealand, Portugal, England, and Canada, Elliott is pleased to offer his first novel, Return, book one of The Sun God’s Heir trilogy.
A member of the Authors Guild and the Dramatists Guild, Elliott lives in New Hampshire with his beautiful wife Sally Ann.