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Narrative is the foundation of the future, the other, and ethical commitments

Throughout history and probably since human beings recognized themselves as such, innumerable tales and stories have been told that, and as they passed from generation to generation, converge in narratives so repeated that they are even accepted as the only reality. But without those narratives there would be no future, no others, and no self-aware persons.

As Dr. John Vervaeke (University of Toronto) explains, while individual stories and even group stories focus on remembering what happened to those people or groups (episodic memory), the great narratives (remarkably close, if not identical to the myths of ancient times in their functions) seek to give meaning to life and guide behaviors.

While personal stories tell what happened, narratives explain who we are and let us know why things happen the way they do. And by doing so and precisely by doing it, they invite us and even force us to put aside, even for a moment, that world in which each one of us is the hero and the only protagonist of history. In that regard, narratives are autonoetic memories. 

In other words, narratives force us to consider other possibilities and, for that very reason, to consider a reality other than the one we live in. And a reality different from the one we live in is the very definition of the future. As we said in a previous column, the future is not the time after the present, but an expansion of the consciousness of possibilities.

But if we leave the confinement of ourselves and at the same time we focus on the future, then inevitably we will meet "the others" and in a short time we will realize that we are "the other" of the others.

In turn, that temporary expansion and that exit or opening towards the other opens up the possibility of long-term work commitments and deep ethical commitments. The fact that we are no longer locked within ourselves and that we see ourselves potentially living in another time, in another space and with others also deepens our self-discovery.

For Vervaeke, the extension towards the future, the exit towards the others and the capacity to assume serious commitments (and to fulfill them) are three basic elements of being a person (or, I add, a mature and adult person).

For his part, for the writer and thinker Ítalo Calvino, the level of person is reached when the ability to "question normality" is acquired and maintained and, even more so, the ability to notice who is excluded from that "normality". In a sense, for Calvino, the person (in the profound meaning of the word) is the one who changes the narrative and starts a new story.

Unfortunately, in the world of “hypermodern idiots” (as described by the Spanish philosopher José Carlos Ruiz) there is no longer any place for a narrative that invites us and forces us to be people, nor for people capable of changing the narratives of exclusion. Or perhaps that is the commitment that we must assume.

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