Where do stories come from?

Today, as in the past, we remain steeped in mythologies instructing how to conceptualize the nature of men and women. In continuing to underline the importance of stories for informing our views of people and the world, we bring you an excerpt from philosopher Richard Kearney’s excellent book, On Stories. – PW


Where do stories come from?

If this be magic, let it be an art lawful as eating.
A Winter’s Tale

Telling stories is as basic to human beings as eating. More so, in fact, for while food makes us live, stories are what make our lives worth living. They are what make our condition human.

This was recognised from the very beginnings of Western civilisation. Hesiod tells us how the founding myths (mythos in Greek means ‘story’) were invented to explain how the world came to be and how we came to be in it. Myths were stories people told themselves in order to explain themselves to themselves and to others. But it was Aristotle who first developed this insight into a philosophical position when he argued, in his Poetics, that the art of storytelling – defined as the dramatic imitating and plotting of human action – is what gives us a shareable world.

It is, in short, only when haphazard happenings are transformed into story, and thus made memorable over time, that we become full agents of our history. This becoming historical involves a transition from the flux of events into a meaningful social or political community – what Aristotle and the Greeks called a polis. Without this transition from nature to narrative, from time suffered to time enacted and enunciated, it is debatable whether a merely biological life (zoe) could ever be considered a truly human one (bios). As the twentieth-century thinker Hannah Arendt argued: ‘The chief characteristic of the specifically human life … is that it is always full of events which ultimately can be told as a story …. It is of this life, bios, as distinguished from mere zoe, that Aristotle said that it “somehow is a kind of action (praxis)”.’

What works at the level of communal history works also at the level of individual history. When someone asks you who you are, you tell your story. That is, you recount your present condition in the light of past memories and future anticipations. You interpret where you are now in terms of where you have come from and where you are going to. And so doing you give a sense of yourself as a narrative identity that perdures and coheres over a lifetime. This is what the German philosopher Dilthey called the coming-together-of-a-life (Zusammenhang des Lebens), meaning the act of coordinating an existence which would otherwise be scattered over time. In this way, storytelling may be said to humanise time by transforming it from an impersonal passing of fragmented moments into a pattern, a plot, a mythos.

Every life is in search of a narrative. We all seek, willy-nilly, to introduce some kind of concord into the everyday discord and dispersal we find about us. We may, therefore, agree with the poet who described narrative as a stay against confusion. For the storytelling impulse is, and always has been, a desire for a certain ‘unity of life’. In our own postmodern era of fragmentation and fracture, I shall be arguing that narrative provides us with one of our most viable forms of identity – individual and communal.

If the need for stories has become acute in our contemporary culture, it has been recognised from the origin of time as an indispensable ingredient of any meaningful society. In fact, storytelling goes back over a million years, as scholars like Kellogg and Scholes have shown. The narrative imperative has assumed many genres – myth, epic, sacred history, legend, saga, folktale, romance, allegory, confession, chronicle, satire, novel. And within each genre there are multiple sub-genres: oral and written, poetic and prosaic, historical and fictional. But no matter how distinct in style, voice or plot, every story shares the common function of someone telling something to someone about something. In each case there is a teller, a tale, something told about and a recipient of the tale. And it is this crucially intersubjective model of discourse which, I’ll be claiming, marks narrative as a quintessentially communicative act. Even in the case of postmodern monologues like Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape or Happy Days, where the actor is talking and listening to him/herself, there is always at least an implicit other out there to whom the tale is addressed – that ‘other’ often being ‘us’ the listeners. In short, where the author or audience appear absent they are usually ‘implied’. That is why the continuing, and I believe inexhaustible, practice of storytelling belies the faddish maxim that ‘in narrative no one speaks’, or worse, that language speaks only to itself.

To imagine the origins of storytelling we need to tell ourselves a story. Someone, somewhere, sometime, took it into his head to utter the words ‘once upon a time’; and, so doing, lit bonfires in the imaginations of his listeners. A tale was spun from bits and pieces of experience, linking past happenings with present ones and casting both into a dream of possibilities. Once the listeners heard the beginning they wanted to find out the middle and then go on to the end. Stories seemed to make some sense of time, of history, of their lives. Stories were gifts from the gods enabling mortals to fashion the world in their own image. And once the story-telling genie was out of the cave there was no going back. ‘No one knows how long man has had speech’, write Scholes and Kellogg in their classic book, The Nature of Narrative.

Language is probably even older than man himself, having been invented by some ‘missing link’, a creature in the phylogenetic chain somewhere between man and the gibbon. It may have been as many as a million years ago that man first repeated an utterance which had given pleasure to himself or to someone else and thereby invented literature. In a sense, that was the beginning of Western narrative art.

The magical power of narrative was not lost on its first hearers. And, as anthropologists like Lévi-Strauss and Mircea Eliade have shown, one of the earliest roles of the shaman or sage was to tell stories which provided symbolic solutions to contradictions which could not be solved empirically. In the process, reality itself would find itself miraculously transformed. The classic example, cited by Lévi-Strauss, is of the woman who has difficulties giving birth: suffering from a blocked womb, she is told the ‘myth’ of the good warriors freeing a prisoner trapped in a cave by monsters, and on hearing the plot resolution recited by the shaman, she gives birth to her child. Thanks to an imaginary break-through, reality follows suit. Nature imitates narrative.

But stories served to address psychic as well as physical suffering. The pain of loss and confusion, of loved ones passing away, called out for stories. Myths arose, as Lévi-Strauss says, as ‘machines for the suppression of time’. Or as Tolkien put it, as ways of expressing our yearning for the Great Escape – from death. From the word go, stories were invented to fill the gaping hole within us, to assuage our fear and dread, to try to give answers to the great unanswerable questions of existence: Who are we? Where do we come from? Are we animal, human or divine? Strangers, gods or monsters? Are we born of one (mother-earth) or born of two (human parents)? Are we creatures of nature or culture? In seeking to provide responses to such unfathomable conundrums – both physical and metaphysical – the great tales and legends gave not only relief from everyday darkness but also pleasure and enchantment: the power to bring a hush to a room, a catch to the breath, a leap to the curious heart, with the simple words ‘Once upon a time’.

We might thus account for the genesis of stories in so-called ‘primitive societies’. But such powers of storytelling are not, I am convinced, as antiquarian as we might imagine. Just think how children today still crave for bedtime stories of fantastic creatures and conflicts – from Grimm’s fairytales to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings – so that they may act out their inner confusions through these imaginary events and so, in the safety of their beds, prepare for sleep. As Tolkien himself put it, describing his own childhood passion for stories:

Fantasy, the making or glimpsing of Other-worlds, was the heart of the desire of Faerie. I desired dragons with a profound desire. Of course, I in my timid body did not wish to have them in the neighbourhood, intruding into my relatively safe world, in which it was, for instance, possible to read stories in peace of mind, free from fear.

Are we adults so very different when it comes to the need for narrative fantasy?

The Greek term mythos meant, as noted, a traditional story. And in its earliest form, that is just what narrative was. Our modern question – where does narrative come from? – did not arise back then. The aim was not so much to invent something that never happened, or to record something that did happen, but to retell a story that had been told many times before. Primordial narratives were thus essentially recreative. And myth, the most common form of early narrative, was a traditional plot or storyline which could be transmitted from one generation of tellers to the next. It generally had a sacred ritual function, being recited for a community in order to recall their holy origins and ancestors. This is true of the great mythological sagas of Greek, Indian, Babylonian, Persian, Chinese, biblical, Celtic and Germanic traditions, to name but obvious cases. What would we know of Western cultural identity, more specifically, if we could not recite the tales of Odysseus, Aeneas, Abraham or Arthur, for example? And the same reliance on narrative recreation applies to non-Western cultures, as the Indian novelist Arundhati Roy reminds us.‘The Great Stories’, she writes,

are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don’t deceive you with thrills and trick endings. They don’t surprise you with the unforeseen. They are as familiar as the house you live in. Or the smell of your lover’s skin. You know how they end, yet you listen as though you don’t. In the way that although you know that one day you will die, you live as though you won’t. In the Great Stories you know who lives, who dies, who finds love, who doesn’t. And yet you want to know again. THAT is their mystery and their magic.

But there is another mystery too. For every time that the Great Myths of Beginning are told, they are told by a human teller. So while they are the same, they are also just that little bit different at each telling. The storyteller ‘tells stories of the gods, but his yarn is spun from the ungodly, human heart’.

Mythic narrative mutated over time into two main branches: historical and fictional.

Historical narrative modified traditional mythos with a growing allegiance to the reality of past events. Storytellers like Herodotus and Thucydides in Greece, for instance, strove to describe natural rather than supernatural events, resisting the Homeric license to entertain monstrous and fantastic scenarios. Alexander and the Persians took the place of Odysseus and the Sirens. The first historians strove to provide narrative descriptions of ‘real’ time, place and agency, making it seem as if they were telling us the way things actually happened. At the level of individual humans, this gave rise to the genre of biography or ‘case history’. At the level of collective humanity, it gave birth to history in the general sense, understood as the narrative recounting of empirical events (res gestae).

The second branch of narrative, the fictional, also moved away from traditional mythos, but in a different direction from the historical. Fictional narratives aimed to redescribe events in terms of some ideal standard of beauty, goodness or nobility. This reached its most dramatic form in romance, a literary genre typified by such works as the Chanson de Roland and Perceval, where metaphor, allegory, hyperbole and other rhetorical devices served to embellish and embroider the events. But one already found strains of it in Dante’s Commedia, where historical verisimilitude combined with fantasy and imagination, without losing sight of the basic human impulse to tell a story ‘as if ’ it were happening, and ‘as if ’ the characters described existed – or could be believed to exist.

Disney 1

It was, however, with the emergence of the modern novel in the post-Renaissance period that fictional romance reached its apogee. What differentiates the novel from preceding kinds of romance is its extraordinary ‘synthetic’ power: it draws liberally from such diverse conventions as lyric (personal voice), drama (presentation of action), epic (depiction of heroes or anti-heroes) and chronicle (description of empirical detail). But above all, the novel is unique in its audacity in experimenting and evolving, metamorphosing and mutating into an amazingly rich range of narrative possibilities – even entertaining the hypothesis of its own demise in what some commentators describe as anti-narrative or post-narrative. And as we enter the cyber-world of the third millennium where virtual reality and digital communications rule, we find many advocates of the apocalyptic view that we have reached the end not only of history, but of the story itself.

This pessimistic attitude towards our new cyber and media culture is canvassed curiously by critics of both the left (Benjamin, Barthes, Baudrillard) and the right (Bloom, Steiner, Henri). Their bottom line is that we are entering a civilisation of depthless simulation inimical to the art of storytelling. The exclusive vulgarisation of intimacy and privacy in popular culture – ranging from TV Talk Shows to multiple Chat Rooms on the Internet – appears to be exhausting the fundamental human need to say something meaningful in a narratively structured way. There is now, we are told, nothing that can’t be immediately confessed to anonymous strangers ‘somewhere out there’, the most secret realms of experience being reducible to voyeuristic immediacy and transparency. Narrative is being superficialised and consumerised out of existence. And the fact that computers can now supposedly produce stories to order – as in the case of the Jacqueline Susann novel Just this Once – merely adds to the cynicism. The pseudo-Susann novel was written by a supercharged Apple- Mac computer called Hal, after the computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey, and published to a fanfare of publicity in 1993. But as even Professor Marvin Minsky, AI pioneer from MIT, admitted, no matter how many computer-coded rules you use to program your writing project, you still have to confront what he calls the ‘common sense knowledge problem’. Computers can certainly copy and simulate, but the question remains whether they can create in a way comparable to a human narrative imagination.

A postmodern cult of parody and pastiche is, the pessimists conclude, fast replacing the poetic practices of narrative imagination. We shall see. For my part I am convinced that the obituarists of storytelling, be they positivists who dismiss it as anachronistic fantasy or post-structuralists who decry its alleged penchant for closure, are mistaken. Indeed, against such prophets of doom, I hold that the new technologies of virtualised and digitised imagining, far from eradicating narrative, may actually open up novel modes of storytelling quite inconceivable in our former cultures. One thinks, for example, of the way that Beckett explores the electronic retelling of one’s life in Krapp’s Last Tape (where a 69-year-old man rehears and retells the story of his 39-year-old former self through a tape-recorder); or, more graphically still, the way in which Atom Egoyan renarrates the Beckett play through the more sophisticated technologies of cinema and DVD. The complex narrative relationship between memory and recorded memory, between imagination and reality, can be brought into especially sharp focus by the new and technically avant-garde media. Moreover, this option is being fruitfully explored by a whole range of experimental film-makers from Chris Marker in Level 5 (and his accompanying art work and CD-ROM, Immemory) to Tom Tykwer in Run Lola Run. That is why I believe that no matter how ‘post’ our third-millennium culture becomes, we shall never reach a moment when the phrase ‘This is a story about . . .’ ceases to fascinate and enchant. Hence my wager that postmodernism does not spell the end of the story but the opening up of alternative possibilities of narration.

But let me return briefly to our genealogy of storytelling. What both historical and fictional narratives have in common is a mimetic function. From Aristotle to Auerbach, it has been recognised that this involves far more than a mere mirroring of reality. When Aristotle defines mimesis in his Poetics as the ‘imitation of an action’, he means a creative redescription of the world such that hidden patterns and hitherto unexplored meanings can unfold. As such mimesis is essentially tied to mythos taken as the transformative plotting of scattered events into a new paradigm (what Paul Ricoeur calls the ‘synthesis of the heterogeneous’). It has little or nothing to do with the old naturalist conviction that art simply holds a mirror up to nature.

Narrative thus assumes the double role of mimesis-mythos to offer us a newly imagined way of being in the world. And it is precisely by inviting us to see the world otherwise that we in turn experience catharsis: purgation of the emotions of pity and fear. For while narrative imagination enables us to empathise with those characters in the story who act and suffer, it also provides us with a certain aesthetic distance from which to view the events unfolding, thereby discerning ‘the hidden cause of things’. It is this curious conflation of empathy and detachment which produces in us – viewers of Greek tragedy or readers of contemporary fiction – the double vision necessary for a journey beyond the closed ego towards other possibilities of being.

Aristotle confined this cathartic power to fictional and poetic narratives, maintaining that these alone revealed the ‘universal’ structures of existence – unlike historical accounts, which dealt merely with ‘particular’ facts. But I would wish to contest such a schismatic opposition and acknowledge some kind of interweaving between fiction and history. One of my main preoccupations in this book will be to explore various examples of such interweaving, and to unravel some of the more intriguing enigmas which result. In the chapters which follow, I shall endeavour to treat of a number of actual stories, before trying to sketch out a more precise philosophy of story-telling in our final section. I shall be returning, therefore, in conclusion to Aristotle and certain contemporary thinkers about narrative and would hope to be in a position at that point to offer a clearer conceptual account of the characteristics of storytelling. In other words, before getting to the moral of the story, I shall first engage with stories themselves. Before the theory the practice.

Hence, in what follows I propose first to explore the controversial relation between fiction and history in three individual cases – Stephen Daedalus, Ida Bauer (Dora) and Oscar Schindler. Then, I shall extend the discussion to three examples of more collective or national narration: Rome, Britain and America. By means of such examples – drawn from literature, cinema, art, psychotherapy and political history – my aim is ultimately to disclose a philosophical view instructed by the rich complexities and textures of these narratives. That way, we may not just be putting thinking into action but also, with luck, some action back into thinking.

In the light of these various explorations of narrative, sometimes probing the very limits of the sayable, I shall conclude that narrative matters. Whether as story or history or a mixture of both (for example testimony), the power of narrativity makes a crucial difference to our lives. Indeed, I shall go so far as to argue, rephrasing Socrates, that the unnarrated life is not worth living.

*Excerpt reprinted with permission of the author.

A historical perspective on why men can’t say NO.

By Paul Elam

Men are only as mentally and emotionally healthy as their ability to say no to a woman. Actually, that bears repeating.

Men are only as mentally and emotionally healthy as their ability to say no to a woman.

Obviously, this does not apply in some areas. Mental health problems won’t be solved by simply finding a woman and uttering the word “no.” Gay men may have a somewhat different perspective about this but they are raised with the same life expectations as straight men so there is no real pass for them either. Quite the contrary.

Still, I will hold to this proposition and do my best to explain it. I can tell a great deal about a man, his boundaries, his values and ultimately his integrity and character with a simple measurement of his obsequiousness with and deference to women.

Romantic Chivalry

To understand all this requires a bit of a history lesson, dating back to the twelfth century and the cultural movement driven by romantic chivalry.

At precisely that moment in history the warrior code was harnessed to the emerging culture of courtly love, an aristocratic invention that saw the military principles of honor, gallantry and service placed in the service of a new Commanders in Chief – courtly ladies.

As historian Jennifer G. Wollock summarizes, “The idea that love is ennobling and necessary for the education of a knight comes out of the lyrics of this period but also in the romances of knighthood. Here the truest lovers are now the best knights.”1

While there is arguable evidence that protection of women and children is a basic male instinct, tied to reproductive access, this is likely the first known time in history where that mandate was codified.

Over a period of a few hundred years, romantic chivalry spread to all the principle courts of Europe and found its way more broadly to lives of everyday men and women who coveted the lifestyle of the upper class. It also fostered a great deal of female privilege and the inescapable neoteny that came with it.

So went the first known institutionalization of pressuring men into a tradition of male servitude – or obsequiousness – toward women that continues unchecked today. Yet it was only the first of three foundational events that would become the prevailing model of gender relations; one that negatively impacts men’s lives and mental health.

The Industrial Revolution

IR-300x233The next developmental watershed in men’s deference to women was the Industrial Revolution. While thrusting humanity into modern civilization, it was the next giant step toward normalizing a standard of mental illness in men where it concerned their relationships with women.

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, men largely worked in or near their homes. They worked as artisans, farmers, producers of livestock, tradesman or some other profession that they passed down to their sons through apprenticeship and mentoring.

While still driven by the force of romantic chivalry, they were as involved in the raising of children as mothers were. Those mothers, by the way, also had laborious duties that were a regular part of their role in the family. With the combined work of both parents and participation of the children, families operated more like business concerns than what you most commonly see today.

Both discipline and nurturing from both parents were immediately present; both male and female influence in the lives of children.

The Industrial Revolution, combined with romantic chivalry, accelerated the problem. The mass migration to cities began. Fathers were removed from the home (and the daily lives of their children) to go into factories and work. And of course one of the first products of that revolution was advanced technology in the home, making the lives of women much safer and less arduous. It also created a lot more free time for women, arguably time for them to become fixated on their emotional needs.

The impact of that on family dynamics hit like a tsunami. Women were left to the increasingly softening work of home and children alone, and left in want of adult company. Husbands returning from long, grueling days of labor returned home to be fed and to rest, without the luxury of making up time they had missed with their families.

In this familial void, women quickly turned to their children, particularly male children, to fill their emotional needs. And fathers, consumed by work and duty, largely just enforced the wishes of the mother on the children. This triggered the second wave of privilege and psychological neoteny in western women and where men, due to resentment over their absence, began to be demonized.

Oedipal Culture

All of this greatly increased the likelihood that mothers would form inappropriate bonds with their male children in order to fill the holes in their lives. In other words, we took a step toward a society of emotional incest.

This is difficult to understate. What I am defining here is a culture of emotionally incestuous bonding between mothers and sons. The implications of that are tremendous, and in fact they seem to have been verified by the following 150 years of technological advancement and cultural malaise.

Perhaps it is not coincidental that the onset of the industrial revolution also saw the first formations of what were known to be “Henpecked Husbands” clubs; groups of men who gathered to use peer pressure to induce each other into tolerating more demands and abuse from their wives.

aaaaaaaaa-300x200The Industrial Revolution gave birth to a new age in civilization. It also ultimately resulted in the breakdown of the family unit as it was once known. The late nineteenth century rang in the Tender Years Doctrine, and with it the first legal presumption that younger children were better off in the care of mothers than fathers. The steamroller did not stop from there, it accelerated. The same glut of time and resources that spawned women to create an emotionally incestuous culture also produced gender feminism, the last and final of a monumentally powerful triad of events that left the majority of men in seemingly helpless servitude to women.

Barely one and a half centuries from the first American factory being built and our culture is all but dominated by a woman-first mentality. So rote and mindless have men become that they allow single mothers to effortlessly continue the spread of emotional incest and other forms of child abuse.

Our boys enter an education system completely dominated by female teachers, all of whom are a product of the same forces that created the new paradigm.

Society, especially the female dominated realms of home and early education, produces males that are highly, often terminally dependent on female approval. By the time boys get more substantial exposure to males, the pattern is set. Not to mention the fact that the males they are exposed to are as dependent on female approval as those who might otherwise provide mentoring. They too, as beta enforcers, put pressure on boys to participate in the incestuous bond as expressed in the schools.

This puts us squarely in an age of crippled masculine identity and the consequential impotence. We have legions of men who have stood by silently while their families have been destroyed in corrupt courts, where our young men are being driven out of education and into fields of combat and where men are more likely to support and enable these travesties than to object to them.

Their silence is the mental health issue of our time and you can see it reflected most clearly in men’s interpersonal relationships with women.

When I co-wrote “Say Goodbye to Crazy,” a book aimed at women who were dealing with the devastation wrought in their relationships by mentally unstable and abusive ex-wives, a substantial part of the focus was directed at husbands who lacked the ability to stand up to their former partners.

That problem is not contained to the second marriages of a handful of men. It is a sweeping societal problem that affects all men.

If you read my last article about male space, you will know that when I gave men in a treatment setting the task of focusing on themselves vs focusing on the women in that community, the immediate reaction was fear. That fear was proven justified when the men and women, both staff and clients of that facility, reacted in anger to the men putting themselves first for a single weekend.

What was also proven was the dire need for men to overcome overwhelming programming and pressure.

With a catastrophic gender suicide gap and a plethora of other problems affecting men, at the root of it is men’s programming to sacrifice their interests, well-being and their boundaries in order to take care of and please women.

They have lost the ability to say no. Indeed they have never had it. They are terrified of the loss implied by the very thought of it. The fact that we have done away with all of our rituals to transition boys into manhood does not help but that will be a topic for a future essay.

Changing Course

Correcting this, reversing the trend, is easier said than done. In fact, it is damned hard work for most, and simply undoable for the many who lack the strength to face and walk through fear on such a primal level. It can, however, be accomplished in stages for the dedicated.

The first stage is Simple Awareness and is by far the easiest. It is just education and can be had as easily as grasping the contents of this writing. When men understand the forces that compel them to please women at any cost, they create the opportunity and motivation to imagine it can be corrected. With that, they can rewrite their future, largely by rewriting their history. More to come on that as well.

The second stage is brutal. There is no other way to put it. It requires men to face the fear of ripping the emotionally incestuous bond; the foundational fear of all men, the fear that most resembles the fear of death. It means putting themselves in the jaws of the beast from which they have to scratch and claw their way out.

Once they have emerged they reach the final and unending stage of walking in the footsteps that were determined by a newly shaped history, sans the Romantic Chivalry, sans the emotional incest and sans the gynocentrism.

I realize that the definitions of these stages are cursory and incomplete. There is much more to them. A more thorough examination is next in this series of essays intended to help men free themselves and their sons from the clutches of a path that was chosen for them in favor of a path that they carve out for themselves.


[1] Jennifer G. Wollock, Rethinking Chivalry and Courtly Love, (Published by Praeger, 2011)

This article was first published at An Ear for Men and republished with permission.

Authoring your own life

Harnessing men’s utility can be witnessed from the erection of Stonehenge to the Roman Empire to the moon landings. Cures for diseases and vaccines to prevent them happened from the intensely intelligent actions of the human male. Exploring new territories and engineering the transport to send people to new places has changed the world, almost all of it through risk and hardship borne by men. Men have driven civilization forward since we first walked away from the African savannah. Men’s blood, sweat, tears and sacrifices are the fuel rods that have always driven the big machine of our society.

Conditioning men, training them to do that, was necessary.

If the world wanted to continue its forward march it needed to entice little boys with fictions of glory that would forge their identities as the architects and the engineers of the world around them. It was an easy sell given the perhaps innate tendency in males to risk and to accomplish more than the man next to him.

We have thus, from generation to generation, raised our men on a steady diet of stories about saviors, knights and world-building heroes. We train them see themselves in accordance with those fables, sometimes brutally. We teach them that their worth is actually their worth to the wants and needs of others. We instruct them to see themselves as worthless for doing or being anything other than what we expect them to be.

This kind of thinking probably had its appropriate place in a world that was driven by constant and immediate survival needs. There is no doubt that without humankind benefitting from male sacrifice, you would not be sitting there reading this over an internet connection in a safe and comfortable environment, perhaps half a world away.

So do we need to continue this kind of dependence on men to sacrifice unthinkingly for the needs of others? Seven billion examples of a species now dominating the planet and traveling the solar system suggest not.

Yet we continue on in the same mode, blinded by habituation and the thoughtlessness that comes with it.

The problem that we glean from this is clear. The labels of hero, savior and other forms of “real” manhood are now just euphemisms for the disposable servants we have become as an entire class of human beings. We proudly retell tales of sacrifice to our sons, even as the story of their own lives emerges – singing paeans to the yoke.

Such are the stories all little boys are raised on:

Book for 2-5 yr old boys, complete with battery-operated button that produces the sound of a damsel screaming

Book for 2-5 yr old boys, complete with battery-operated button that produces the sound of a damsel screaming

The stories seem harmless and even cute in isolation from their real-world implications. As fantasies we delight in them. But it pays to remember our identities consist, as Shakespeare said, of such stuff as dreams are made. The stories we absorb are the stories we enact, and in this case we enact them to the neglect of ourselves and our larger human potential.

The psychotherapeutic world has long understood the equation ‘narrative becomes identity’ – and the field is populated with therapies whose sole aim is to construct new narratives for our lives. Beginning with Freud’s ‘talking cure’ and later archetypal psychology, cognitive psychology (scripts), narrative psychology, cognitive narratology (etc.), narrative therapy leads the way to healing and self-respect.

Men, in particular, are story creatures. Our psyches literally rely on them for existence as much as our bodies rely on food. We create stories about “who” we are; about the world we live in and our place in it; and about how we are meant to relate to others – men, women and children. Without them we lack orientation and are left with an existential vertigo.

Whatever you want to call them–scripts, myths, narrations, schema or stories–we can’t live without them. However, like a bad dose of salmonella some narratives will give you a case of mental dysentery leading even unto death by overwork or suicide – such is their power to direct your behavior. Psychologists, good ones anyway, refer to these as pathologizing narratives and try to weed them out of your mental garden.

But who is to decide what a pathological narrative is? Surely it is not the feminist psychologists who now dominate nearly every part of the therapeutic landscape with pathological narratives.

The problem with all mainstream therapy, which is now nearly synonymous with feminist therapy, is that it doesn’t recognize gynocentrism as a problem or perhaps doesn’t see it at all. So they have no model for guiding men out of pathological (gynocentric) narratives and into new ones that might release them from the old script. In fact what they usually do, despite superfical overtures about therapy that focuses on the needs of the client, is actively encourage men to stay lodged in the depth of the gynocentric mythos.

How many men feel (and actually are) waylaid, ambushed and taken hostage by female-centric ideas when they enter couples counseling? How often do you hear that men are resistant to therapy because they don’t want to express feelings, only to see the same purveyors of that idea rush in to shame men the moment they open up?

How many men would benefit from understanding that they cannot begin to identify who and what they are without first ending the unhealthy reliance on women, and others with a conflict of interest, as sources of approval in their lives?

There is a reason that men don’t trust therapists. It is because there are so many therapists who don’t trust men. Those practitioners are more likely to use men than to help them.

We don’t just make narratives up – in many ways they make us up. So it’s important to not let the culture write the script for us, the script that inevitably leads to the belief that we are rapists and emotional failures, that women are damsels, that we are knights in the Order of Chivalry, and that we must suffer our lives for the principles of gynocentrism. Like the tattered novel you just can’t seem to finish reading, throw it in the trash and hunt for a new book, a better book, one that will bring value to your life.

If you are searching for a therapist make sure and ask one question: “Have you heard of gynocentrism?” If they haven’t walk away and don’t hire them. In fact be prepared to do so much walking away that your steps will number enough to walk around the entire planet three times. Doing therapy with men without a fundamental understanding of gynocentism is like trying to teach algebra without a fundamental understanding of mathematics.

The task of the gynocentrism-savvy therapist is to facilitate the male client’s rewriting of his own story. The (completely imaginary) book will have a beginning, a middle and an end with a compelling plot throughout. It doesn’t matter what the new fiction is, as long as it works for the client. It can be anything the therapist helps the client envision for himself during the course of therapy. They leave the therapy sessions with a new novel in which they are the protagonist, leading a gynocentrism-free life of self-determination.

The above underscores the importance of having a healthy narrative to live by. A good therapist can help you achieve that – if you need assistance at all. Some of us, many actually, can write our novels without help. Just make sure that the narrative you adopt is one that allows you to be a fully functioning human being. If your current story doesn’t achieve that, burn it and dream up something new.

Dream big, but most importantly, dream what you choose.