Origin stories and a sense of distance


Although I don’t write about it much here, I often use an evolutionary view to explore dynamics in daily life. It is fun to imagine what evolutionary function something has, and it can even be helpful at times.

For instance, I noticed nervousness before giving a presentation to a group, and realized that it seems to make perfect sense in an evolutionary perspective. If I am careless about what I say or do in front of a large group of people, it can have serious consequences for me. In extreme cases, I could get killed. I could get thrown out of my community. I could get stigmatized and have to live with the consequences for the rest of my life. Of course, in the culture I live in, none of these are likely to happen, or if some of the less serious consequences did happen, I could just find another group or move another place. But my system still responds as if I lived in a small tribe in Africa and my life depended on that one small community.

Just having that explanation makes it a little easier. The nervousness seems a little less personal. It is not so much about me, but a shared human – probably mammalian – experience.

And that is how it is with all origin stories we have about these types of individual dynamics.

I notice an emotion, an addictive tendency, a problem with my spouse, dissatisfaction at work, or something about me or in my life that disturbs me.

And I can find a series of explanations for it.

The dynamic has an evolutionary function. It comes from my culture. It comes from my family and may have been passed down for several generations. It was the innocent decision of a child to the situation I was in at age eight, and then became a pattern. It is a natural response to the situation I am in. It is an innocent and natural response to a belief. And so on.

What all of these explanations have in common is that they put the (first, previous) cause outside of myself. It gives a sense of space between me and the dynamic. It makes it appear less personal.

And right there, there is a sense of more room for choice, for relating to it differently. It goes from being something personal and near, to something less personal and more distanced that I have a choice in how I relate to.

It doesn’t really matter what the story is, as long as it makes sense to me. As long as it is plausible, fits my general worldview, and seems to fit the data. And most importantly, that it seems helpful for me here and now. That the consequences of the story is helpful for me in a practical sense.



  • origin stories
    • origin stories for personal/individual dynamics
      • evolution
      • culture
      • family
      • belief
    • all gives a sense of distance, makes it appear less personal (tell ourselves)
      • so more room for choice, relating to it differently (from automatic to a sense of choice in how to relate to)
    • matters less what the origin story is, as long as makes sense to us
      • is plausible, fits our general worldview, seems to fit (our stories about) the data etc.

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