The Evolution of Narrative

We evaluate a contribution in terms of the kind of story it tells. The evolution from Modern Age belief to culturally mature understanding takes through a predictable sequence of stories. Modern Age beliefs juxtapose heroic or romantic narratives. Heroic narratives describe overcoming obstacles to realize some ultimate achievement. Romantic narratives describe some meeting—either personal or more encompassing—that results in emotional or spiritual completion. They can work alone or together. Both heroic and romantic narratives are in the end ideological. Each involves projection, mythologizing, and a promise of final fulfillment and last-word truth. Each of our more conventional narratives—the American Dream, opposing political worldviews, the traditional beliefs of our various religions, progress’s promise of ever onward-and-upward scientific discovery and technological advancement—are of this heroic/romantic sort.

Following this we find transitional narratives, narratives that straddle Cultural Maturity’s threshold. Such stories recognize the limitations of ideological absolutes, but are capable of only a beginning grasp of what—if anything—may lie beyond such belief. I use postmodern as a catch-all term of this kind of story. Postmodern narrative at its best alerts us to how once-and-for-all truths now fail us, the fact of multiple viewpoints, and the importance of taking final responsibility in our choices. At its worst, it reduces to a different-strokes-for-different-folks arbitrariness and a confusion of irony and contradiction with significance that becomes, in effect, but another kind of ideology (and, as we shall see, ideology of a particularly tedious and difficult to counter sort). Such is the expected dual fate of such “straddling” belief.

Cultural Maturity’s new narrative offers that we might proceed more fully beyond ideology by leaving behind both absolutist belief and also more tendencies to elevate the absence of belief. It takes the best of postmodern insight and then moves beyond it. It describes the possibility of engaging experience more consciously and fully from the complex whole of who we are as systems, and in the process more fully and deeply engaging the complexities of the world around us.

We can use the concept of Cultural Maturity as a basis for discernment in a couple of ways, each of which follows from its developmental nature. First we can apply it as a “threshold concept,” as a minimum requirement for addressing, or really understanding, our time’s new questions. Developmental stages involve distinct breaks. They define new worlds not just with regard to what we experience, but how we experience.  Our question:  Does this idea or approach at least get is toe over cultural maturity’s threshold? We can also think of Cultural Maturity as “territory” of experience.  We can talk in terms of the number of “steps” an idea or approach succeeds at progressing into the world of cultural mature perspective and experience.

The larger portion of thinking today falls short of Cultural Maturity’s threshold.  The best makes it two, three, or four sold steps beyond.  By twenty years from now, thinking from beyond that threshold must have major influence in leadership of all kinds and the leading edge of understanding must make it eight of ten good steps.  (Note:  what comprises a “step” is an arbitrary measure. But it is useful for conversation to have a shared sense to refer to.)