Deepening the Narrative of Identity: “A Harsh and Bitter Drink”
A lecture for Vilnius 2018
(Research in Psychotherapy and Culture: Exploring the Narratives of Identity)
It is a pleasure and an honor to be with you and to speak at this conference on “Research in Psychotherapy and Culture: Exploring the Narratives of Identity” in Vilnius. This seems to be a most suitable place to reflect on this topic, not only because of the fine university that is hosting us here, for which we are very grateful, but also because of the history of this place, its culture, its present circumstances and its promising future.
In this lecture I will be addressing two related questions: [slide 2] Are convincing narratives of identity possible in our postmodern world? And if they are, what would they look like if we take a Jungian approach? In concluding, I will offer a thought experiment in constructing a narrative of identity.
I have titled it: “Deepening the Narrative of Identity: ‘A Harsh and Bitter Drink.’”
Narratives of Identity Under De-Construction
Scholars from a variety of academic disciplines have come to recognize the central function of stories in trying to make sense of what is going on in the world around us and for giving us a sense of orientation and (perhaps false) security. The Nobel economics laureate, Robert Shiller, has recently written about what he calls “narrative economics.” He argues that most people make economic decisions based not on rationality (the “rational man” theory) but rather on stories that they find convincing. Holding on to such convincing narratives of what is going on in the world, people will choose to spend money or to save it, to travel or to stay at home, to expand their businesses or to reduce them. Stories guide our economic decisions as we peer out in the unknown future. This can of course lead to bad decisions if the stories are misleading or just plain wrong.
Politicians try to win over the public by convincing them that their narrative is the best one on offer. Sales people do the same. Creating a sales narrative is called “branding” in the world of business. We have to be careful of stories that try to persuade us to take a certain course of action. We have to test the veracity of offered narratives. Do they account for all the facts? All stories are made up of selection of facts and offer a point of view. Which one is the most inclusive, which one has the best perspective? Stories are tempting because they give us a sense of direction and coherent meaning, but it is dangerous to trust them blindly. They are like maps: some are better than others.