Metanarratives: habits, choices, words, actions

At this particular moment in America, its citizenry is engaged in a large-scale drama. There were no auditions. No one asked if we wanted to participate. Everyone got a role—whether wanted or not. As in any epic, we have antagonists a-plenty strewing obstacles every which way, with new ones landing all the time. Act one seems to be lasting a really long time. We assume there’ll be an intermission. But, when?

Since there’s no respite in sight, we have to press on against an host of foes. But with so many actors—some 332 million—and without clear direction, we struggle to move in unison with strength. The result is each player is left to decide the right thing to do. But as we have witnessed, wrongs can go on unimpeded while “rights” busy themselves butting heads.

Photo: Isaiah Edwards

One’s responses—to all aspects of living—reveals a working metanarrative. According to Oxford Languages, a general definition of a metanarrative is “an overarching account or interpretation of events and circumstances that provides a pattern or structure for people’s beliefs and gives meaning to their experiences.” Although commonly associated with religions and various -isms, the idea of a metanarrative governing one’s habits, choices, words, and actions is widely embraced. The way Americans are responding to the unprecedented, on-going events of 2020 is a window into the varied metanarratives alive in its citizens.

One’s metanarrative isn’t just functional during extraordinarily challenging times. It also informs everyday activities. Things like growing a pot of geraniums next to your front door or not throwing litter out the window as you’re driving. Both are actions that promote and protect beauty in the world. They also recognize others as deserving access to beauty no matter how small the effort.

The illustration reveals a metanarrative which holds the value of all people and the presence of beauty in the world in high regard. I would argue this is one of many reasons why people sing: we love to give people beautiful things—especially when beauty is hard to find.

If you would like some help refining the gift that is your voice, contact me.


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