Socially Dominant Narratives

Probably because of my past, I tend to be suspicious of socially dominant narratives. When I see popular stories telling me how life is or how it’s supposed to be, I often question them.

I’m sure this is because I’ve been badly duped by such narratives before. Being raised inside a religion was a real ringer, and it took a serious effort to escape that bubble of falsehoods. Then there were false beliefs about how the world of business is supposed to work (not the same as how it actually does work). And there were more belief traps about relationships.

Sometimes I feel like my life has been a process of walking through a field of bear traps, getting painfully snagged multiple times, and eventually learning to spot the traps and nimbly avoid them. For some reason life has trained me to get better at this.

I’d say what helps the most in spotting these traps is trusting my intuition and my inner feelings, even when the dominant social narrative tells me not to trust myself. I can’t usually see the traps with my eyes, but I can sense them through subtler signals.

When I started blogging, the dominant social narrative around blogging was that it was just a hobby thing and not a realistic business model. That narrative was a bear trap. My inner senses saw an opportunity.

When I left Catholicism, the only narrative I’d been exposed to about leaving said that it was evil, sinful, and wrong… and that I’d surely go to hell and be doomed. That narrative was a bear trap. My inner senses told me to trust rationality and follow rational thinking wherever it would lead me, which was away from those nonsensical religious beliefs.

When I moved to Vegas, there were narratives about what Sin City was like, none of which aligned with my actual experience of living here – for more than 16 years now. Those narratives were a bear trap. The city’s vibe and energy called to me. In particular, Vegas has been a wonderful city for learning public speaking, and doing workshops on the Vegas Strip are just so delightful and fun.

Some of my biggest mistakes in life occurred when I bought into a social narrative that felt opposed to my intuition and feelings. I let others influence my thinking away from my heart and inner senses. When I gave my heart a louder voice, I felt a much greater flow of cooperation in my relationship with life.

The inner voices can be hard to hear above the social din, but we can make an effort to elevate those voices. Eating lighter foods helps a lot. The biggest change that made this voice louder and clearer for me was going vegan, which I did when I was 25. The way I frame this is that since my body spends less time and energy digesting simpler plant foods (and since such foods generate less waste for the body to clean up), the body has more energy for emotional expression and heart-brain communication. This wasn’t an immediate shift, but it seemed to increase year by year for several years after making the change. Other experiments with raw foods and juice feasting helping to advance this a few more steps. When these inner signals are loud enough, it’s hard not to hear them, and it’s punishing not to follow them.

A socially dominant narrative is one way of framing a situation. Sometimes it’s a collection of frames, which may not even agree with each other. You’re probably seeing conflicting frames arising about various situations in the world right now – about the virus situation, the protests, racial justice, and more. How do those frames land with you internally?

If a frame aligns well with your inner signals, then great; feel free to use it. But if a frame feels out of alignment with your inner signals, I encourage you to open a dialog and look for deeper truths. Open the communication channel with your inner self, and see what it has to say. I often do this through journaling. I type up a dialog where one part of me asks questions and another part of me answers them.

How do you really feel about a particular narrative? Is it the right one for you to use? Does it make sense to use that narrative as your dominant inner narrative? Could you come up with something better if you tried?

When you have clear communication with your inner signals, this can help you improve upon the socially dominant narratives. Instead of making those narratives your primary ones, you reframe them from the perspective of your internal narratives. You replace a weaker socially dominant narrative with a higher standard of truth.

When people said that blogging for a living was unrealistic, I reframed that narrative as ignorance and projection. Blogging was new. How could anyone know its potential yet? It was a form of publishing, and many forms of publishing have led to viable business models. My narrative was smarter and more accurate. The socially dominant narrative was stupid and irrelevant.

When religious people told me it was wrong to leave, I reframed that as ignorance too – and self-serving marketing. I noted that there are many religions in the world, and it seemed ludicrous that only one was genuine. I’m supposed to believe that all the other religions are filled up with evil people? Seriously, that’s the argument? I finally framed the situation as an irrational pile of bullshit – a mindfuck that I had to graduate from to become an independent thinker. Religion is obedience training; it’s long-form D/s play for the masses. Within a religion there are inviting roles to play for Doms, subs, and switches. I like this narrative way better than the one that kept me swallowing weekly wafers. I love D/s play, so this narrative gives me a nice way to feel connected with highly religious people without thinking of them as too far gone. I see them as kindred spirits exploring the obedience game together.

I also reframed the old Vegas narrative as ignorance. It’s a big enough city that there are many ways for the experience to unfold. I’d made about 30 trips here before moving, and I found the city fascinating. I liked living here even more than I thought I would. I sure don’t miss the L.A. traffic – I spent so much time in my car when I lived there.

There are more popular narratives inviting me to subscribe to them, but many feel misaligned – as socially dominant narratives often do. I frequently find external narratives to be hollow, rooted in ignorance, overly general, or internally conflicted. As invitations I must decline them, but I can sometimes pull pieces from them to refine and improve my own narratives.

One narrative that falls flat with me is the white privilege one. That statement may annoy or upset some people who want me to join them in that narrative, but before you unload a pile of assumptions and projection onto me, keep reading and I’ll explain why this falls flat.

This narrative isn’t new to me. I’ve had plenty of exposure to it in college and beyond. On the objective side, I can agree with the history and social issues that this narrative exposes. So let’s stipulate to all of that.

How did this narrative impact me over the decades that I’ve know about it? Very little actually. It made me feel sad for the world sometimes. It made me feel sorrier for certain people. But did it motivate me to change my life or do anything differently? No, not really. I didn’t find it particularly actionable. As far as invitations to make real changes and actually do something about societal issues, this narrative engaged with my mind a little, but it didn’t link up with my heart and inner senses.

So as far as narratives go, this one was weak in terms of motivation, impact, and ripples. It didn’t provide an interface to my heart or inner senses. For other people it may land completely differently. I’m sharing the truth of how it landed for me. If you wanna judge that, be my guest. But would you rather have me share the honest truth or be dishonest and pretend?

I don’t discard the white privilege narrative because it challenges me. I don’t discard it because it pushes my buttons. I discard it because it doesn’t challenge me enough. It doesn’t push my buttons. It invites me to acknowledge some societal issues, and then I return to whatever I was doing. I find it shallow and toothless relative to other narratives I’ve explored. I want a narrative with more bite.

Am I alone in feeling this way? How impactful has this narrative really been? I don’t use this narrative because I’ve found much better ones.

A narrative that served me way better than the white privilege one was the redemption narrative. I screwed up a lot in my past, including getting arrested multiple times and being kicked out of school. I kept exploring new ways to frame my life that gradually led me in the direction of service and contribution. That narrative was way more motivating because it aligned strongly with my heart and inner senses, and of course it was personally meaningful to me.

Compassion for all life was another empowering narrative that emerged over time. I still sense that nonviolence towards animals and nonviolence among humans are inseparably linked. Intuitively I don’t think there will be satisfying progress in racial justice unless people are willing to look at more primal and common forms of violence like how billions of animals are treated each day. These are daily acts of violence that still slide under the radar way too often. A much punchier narrative for me is noticing what’s on people’s dinner plates and considering how much violence it took to create that plate. While the white privilege narrative falls flat with me, the human privilege narrative tugs at my heart strings.

I can understand that the current upheaval seems like it’s exposing deep and raw wounds. Perhaps it’s a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t provide as much personally meaningful motivation to me as other frames that run deeper.

The white privilege narrative didn’t bend me much. The human privilege narrative turned some aspects of my life inside out.

This is a very personal exploration. Some social narratives may be personally meaningful for you. So if the white privilege narrative opens your heart and flows you into action, use it. But if it doesn’t empower you in a personally meaningful way, and you find yourself faking alignment with it, find another narrative that calls to your heart and that aligns with your inner senses.

Where are the narratives that pull at your heart? Where are the narratives that align with your inner senses?

An aligned narrative speeds you up. It flows you into harmonious actions that create positive ripples beyond yourself. A misaligned narrative keeps you bogged down in stagnation.

When you discover a narrative that feels strongly aligned, it helps you stay focused and on purpose. The world could be going through a major upheaval, but if the dominant social narratives aren’t as powerful as the ones you’re already using, you’ll likely decline the invitations to buy into those weaker narratives and stay the course with the stronger ones.

The current narratives I see arising right now don’t change my course because I’m already using narratives that are more meaningful, more motivating, and more impactful, and I prefer not to slow down to adopt something less meaningful, less motivating, and less impactful.

I’m still going to keep sharing about conscious growth every day this year. I’m still going to keep encouraging alignment with truth, love, and power as I’ve been doing for years. And if and when I do see more powerful narratives come into view, I’ll incorporate them into my life as I’ve been doing for decades.

That said, a strong personal narrative doesn’t blind you from what else is arising. It doesn’t make you less sensitive or callous. It can actually make you more sensitive. I’ve looked at videos of what’s happening in the world, and I’ve cried about them. I feel so much emotional energy swirling around – pain, anger, hope, and more. It’s really palpable. But by itself, that doesn’t flow me into action as much as more meaningful narratives do.

The current situation does tug at my heart, not from the white privilege frame but from deeper frames like human privilege, compassion, and a feeling of connectedness to all life. The popular social narratives feel so surface-level and hollow to me, but when I view this situation from deeper and more personally meaningful narratives, that opens my heart to want to listen more and consider what I can do about it. This perspective gives me an interface to genuine curiosity and caring, not the fake kind that comes from bowing to social pressure.

One thing that I can and will do is to keep sharing honestly, even if people judge or reject me for it. If you reject honest sharing, would you prefer bullshit sharing instead? Or no sharing at all? Truth is a deeply important standard for me, including being honest about real thoughts and feelings. Truth is a growth accelerator.

If we want to improve faster, we must get aligned with truth first and foremost, wherever it is to be found. One thing I really like about the protests and the ripples they’re causing is that more truth is being shared. That’s wonderful. Unfortunately more bullshit is being shared too.

My commitment is to the truth, not to doing what’s socially popular. So if I continue to write about this, you can expect unapologetic honesty. I’m not going to post popular slogans as an expression of surface-level support because that doesn’t feel meaningful to me.

Some of what I see on social media these days is deeper sharing and real questioning and transformation, which is great to see. A lot of it also strikes me as nauseating fakery, especially when I see it coming from corporations jumping on the bandwagon. Yeah, sure you care.

I’m not going to participate at that shallow level of depth. My heart’s response to that idea is a loud and clear Fuck no! If this bugs the hell out of you and you’d rather see me obey your preferred narrative of how I should behave in this situation, I’ll play the role of violating your misaligned narrative and stick with sharing honestly.

If I see opportunities for genuine contribution, including in terms of healing, I’ll act on them – but only when my heart and inner senses approve. They’re my best B.S. detectors, and they’ve served me well for many years, so I trust them. I trust them more than anything the social pressures of the world can lay upon me.

If you feel inclined to actively participate in current events, I invite and encourage you to run your ideas through your heart and inner senses before you communicate, publish, or take action. Ask yourself if you’re really acting in alignment with truth. Are you doing what feels genuinely right, or are you obediently bowing to social pressure? Are you about to behave like a conscious human being or a sheep seeking approval? What are your real motives? Do you want to grow? Do you seek to contribute? Do you want to help? Do you want people to like you?

And then ask why. What narrative are you using that gives meaning to your actions? Is that narrative aligned with your heart and inner senses? Is it a wise and intelligent narrative for you to use right now?

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Read Socially Dominant Narratives by Steve Pavlina

Steve Pavlina

Steve Pavlina is an American self-help author, motivational speaker and entrepreneur. He is the author of the web site and the book Personal Development for Smart People.

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