Stories as tools

 

tool_box_piano_repair

Staying with the simple and obvious, here is a reminder about stories as tools:

First, let’s look at what we know about tools such as a hammer or a shovel.

We know that each useful in some circumstances and for some tasks. If we use the wrong tool for a task, it usually doesn’t work so well.

Many tools are so common that we have a good sense of how and when to use them, but some tools are more specialized – and potentially dangerous – so it is good to learn from someone more experienced than ourselves.

We can use each tool in a more or less skillful way, often depending on our familiarity with it.

It is good to have a large tool box full of tools, each with a particular use. It gives us greater flexibility in approaching different tasks.

Some tools have a great many uses, such as a hammer. And some tools are very specialized.

With more tools, it is helpful to have one or more tool boxes to store and organize our tools. It helps us see what we have, and what tools may be appropriate for a particular task.

It is silly to get too attached to any one particular tool. If we insist on using, for instance, a hammer for every or most tasks, it is not going to work so well. For some tasks, another tool will be much more appropriate, and using a hammer may even be harmful.

We all know this when it comes to physical tools. We usually take a very pragmatic approach to physical tool use, as we should.

And yet, what are stories if not tools? As physical tools, stories have functions. Stories makes sense of the world for us. They guide attention and action in a particular way. When we use them, they have certain effects. We can use each tool in a more or less skillful way. They may be more or less helpful in different situations. With more specialized ones, it is helpful to learn from someone more experienced. It is good to have one or more tool boxes to organize our tools. Some stories are very specialized, such as those guiding spiritual practice. Some stories are quite unique, such as the stories that tells us that some stories are true, creating identification with and as a particular viewpoint. And it gets silly if we insist on using one particular story in all situations and for all tasks.

How would it look if we approach stories as we do physical tools?

I can explore the functions of a particular story. How is it helpful? How has it been helpful in an evolutionary perspective? How is it helpful in my own life? When does it seem most helpful? When may it be less helpful? How can I use it with more skill? What happens if I rigidly hold onto it? What happens if I recognize it as just a tool, taking a purely pragmatic approach? What happens if I recognize that stories may be helpful in a limited way, but has no more “truth” to it than a shovel?

What are the symptoms of taking a story as something more than a tool? Can I recognize those symptoms as they happen in daily life? Can I find the story I am rigidly holding onto? What do I find when I investigate that story? What is more honest for me about it? How would it be to see it as just a tool? How would it be to explore other stories in that same situation?

It is so easy for us to recognize how to use physical tools with a measure of pragmatic wisdom, and yet, it is so difficult for (many of) us to do the same with stories.

Of course, physical tools are “out there” in the world, so it less likely that we become identified with them. And stories happen “here” and may be less easy to recognize as objects, so it is easier to identify with them, to use that specialized story “I am that” on these stories.

It may also have to do with where we are in our evolution. Using our hands and limbs is something we have done for millions of years. Using our capacity for mental imagery and stories, at least the way us modern humans do, is far more recent. We don’t have the same experience and familiarity with it yet.

Seeing it in this perspective, it is easy to imagine that there will be a time where we will recognize stories as tools, and relate to them in the same pragmatic way we relate to physical tools. Recognizing an increasing number and types of stories as tools is a part of ordinary healing and maturing. And when the stories of me and I, and especially the story of identification (“I am that’) is recognized as tool as well, it is what we – with our penchant for making too much out of simple things – have called “awakening”.

The ordinary maturing is perhaps ongoing and have been so for a very long time. Many of us have the potential to mature quite a bit, given the right circumstances, and those with this potential experience somewhat less stress and are more flexible, so survive and reproduce slightly better. Over time, it may well be that humanity as a whole matures, relating to a greater number and types of stories in a pragmatic way. This obviously happens culturally, but it may well be reflected biologically as well.

Culturally, we mature within our biological potential given conducive circumstances. And those with the greatest biological potential mature a little further, which gives them a slight reproductive edge. So over time, the biological potential for maturity of humanity as a whole increases. Humanity is able to become just a little more mature. Biology offers the potential and limits of culture, and culture in turn – and obviously – influences our biological evolution.

So what about the pragmatic approach to the story of “I am that”?

It may happen for a few at first. From a conventional evolutionary perspective, if these survive and reproduce at a higher rate than others, they will have more offspring who are more likely to recognize stories as tools, and the proportion of these types of folks increases.

Recognizing stories as tools gives less stress and more flexibility, so it should increase their reproductive chances. It is perhaps unfortunate that historically, many who were predisposed to recognize stories as tools took themselves out of the gene pool (becoming monks or nuns), but that is already changing.

At the same time, taking even some stories as more than tools (as “truth”) creates stress and rigidity, which reduces survival and reproductive chances slightly.

The difference may be small, but over time, perhaps large enough to have a significant impact.

How will it look? What would a culture where a significant proportion have a pragmatic approach to the story of “I am that”, recognizing it as a tool only? It is difficult to say, especially since it is likely to happen far into the future. But it may not look all that different.

People will still live their ordinary lives – work, have families and children, enjoy ice cream and a day out in the sun. The main difference will be a reduction overall, and absence for some, of the experience of stress and strife. Society is likely to run a little more smoothly. Decisions are made more from a pragmatic perspective, and from a little more kindness and wisdom.

“Awakening” will probably lose a lot of the “spiritual” baggage it has today. It will be ordinary, simple, commonplace. We will probably still have religions, to celebrate and find community, but not to find ultimate answers.

If the process is purely biological, which it may well be, will it happen quickly? Probably not. May we do something stupid to ourselves before it happens? Could be. Do we know any this for certain? No.

Note: I posted a slightly revised version of the last half as another post.

………………….
………………….

– characteristics of tools
— helpful in some situations, not in other
— learn from others
– how relate to
— as tools, receptivity, flexibility
— attach to, overuse, rigidity
– special tools
— tool boxes
— identification

………………….

outline…..

  • stories as tools
    • as any tool
      • useful in some circumstances and for some tasks, and less useful in other
      • often good to learn from more experienced folks
      • gets weird if overuse, get too attached to a tool
      • also, variety of boxes to organize tools
      • and a large tool box for it all
    • varieties of tools
      • tool boxes – organize tools
      • “I am that” tools – for identification
    • explore function of each
      • when and how is useful
      • also in evolutionary perspective
    • explore consequences
      • when overuse, attach to it – use the “I am that” tool
      • when recognize as just a tool

…………………..

– learn to use + when useful
– learn from more experienced folks
– be flexible, chose tools appropriate to the task
– chose based on effects of tools
– attached to particular tool, overuse – usually not so good effects (stress + not so effective)
– one tool: attachment to a tool, identification (w. story/viewpoint) – has certain effects, function
– another type of tools: toolboxes, organize tools
– explore function of tools, effects – also in evolutionary perspective
– explore consequences – when overuse (rigidity, attachment) + when recognize as tool only (flexible, receptive)

…………………..

  • stories as tools
    • as any tool
      • useful in some circumstances and less useful in other
      • learn to use, explore, see what it is good for, when it is useful
      • often good to learn from more experienced folks
      • gets weird if too attached to it, if overuse it or start defending its use
      • also, variety of boxes etc. to organize the tools – and one large to put it all in
      • good to have a large toolbox with tools for a variety of uses, including several tools for same or similar tasks
    • investigation
      • what happens if get too attached to it, more focused on the tool itself rather than the task
        • tension, stress
        • make one tool absolutely right always and for all tasks
        • make other tools absolutely wrong always and for all tasks
      • what happens if recognize as just a tool
      • when appear useful, and for what – assume it has a function, in some ways and in some circumstances
    • signs
      • look for signs of taking tools too seriously, temporarily forgetting that they are just tools for practical use only
      • tensions, stress, sense of separation, start to defend a position, make other tools wrong, etc.
      • then take to inquiry, see what is more honest for me

………………..

Staying with the simple and obvious, here is a reminder about stories as tools:

Tools such as hammers and saws are each useful in some circumstances and for some tasks.

It’s the same with stories. Each story may be helpful in some situations and for some purposes, and less so in other situations and for other purposes.

…………….

Seeing it in this perspective, it is easy to imagine that there will be a time where we will recognize stories as tools, and relate to them in the same pragmatic way we relate to physical tools. Recognizing a large number of stories as tools is a part of ordinary healing and maturing. And when the stories of me and I, and especially the story of identification (“I am that’) is recognized as tool as well, it is what we – with our penchant for making too much out of simple things – have called “awakening”.

It may happen for a few at first. From a conventional evolutionary perspective, if these survive and reproduce at a higher rate than others, they will have more offspring who are more likely to recognize stories as tools, and the proportion of these types of folks increases.

Recognizing stories as tools gives less stress and more flexibility, so it should increase their reproductive chances. It is perhaps unfortunate that historically, many who were predisposed to recognize stories as tools took themselves out of the gene pool (becoming monks or nuns), but that is already changing.

At the same time, taking stories as more than tools (as “truth”) creates stress and rigidity, which reduces survival and reproductive chances slightly.

The difference may be small, but over time, perhaps large enough to have a significant impact.

If the process is purely biological, which it may well be, will it happen quickly? Probably not. May we do something stupid to ourselves before it happens? Could be. Do we know? No.

Related posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *