All of Us Are Like This 7-Year-Old Who Doesn’t Like His Story-Making to Be Interrupted

Friends of ours told us the other night about their grandson, now 7, who lives just down the street from them. That means he spends a lot of nights at their place, school nights included. And that means either his grandmother or his granddad (but usually his grandmother) is freighted with the task of rousting him for school in the morning.

While getting him awake is not often a problem, his grandparents say, getting his feet on the floor usually is. He loves to lay in bed, eyes wide open, eyes very active in fact. Looking first in one direction, then another, though almost never at you. Ask him what he’s doing, and you are inviting a minor Vesuvius of emotion, they report. “You are interrupting my story!” they say he’ll protest. It is clear that their grandson does not like his story-making interrupted. And I’ve come to realize that few of us do.

I’m going to assume that most of the emotion is being generated by his right hemisphere, which is irritated that its understanding of what the left side of his brain is currently up to has been disrupted. That’s because for a lot of things, until the left side of our brain supplies an explanation, the right side is left pretty much without one. This, at least, is what neuroscientist Michael Gazzaniga suggested years ago, and continues to suggest, with his theory of the interpreter.

Residing in the left hemisphere—or so “split brain” expert Gazzaniga concluded, as he explained (among many other places) in The Mind’s Past (page 174)—“The interpreter constantly establishes a running narrative of our actions, emotions, thoughts, and dreams. It is the glue that keeps our story unified and creates our sense of being a coherent, rational agent. It brings to our bag of individual instincts the illusion that we are something other than what we are. It builds our theories about our own life, and these narratives of our past behavior seep into our awareness.”

Ever since reading Dr. Gazzaniga’s theory of the interpreter, I’ve tended to tell anyone curious about what I do professionally that I’m a deadly serious student of the stories people tell themselves and others to explain who they are. You can notice this persistent thread running through nearly all of our models, books and assessment tools here at Brain Me Up. And few things interest me more than the “core” story people tell about themselves.

I’ve concluded that there aren’t very many core stories. And that understanding what your core story is and admitting to its realities, and constantly assessing when and where it makes sense to submit to guidance from your core story, are crucial to being an effective human. (Of course, not every core story equips its user to know or even to care whether they are an effective human as well as some core stories do.)

Any scholar or researcher who professes to be a “developmental” person, following how one person over time and how all persons over the generational expanses of time, assemble and enable and sometimes limit their personal qualities and skills, is hard at work seeking to understand the stories people tell themselves and others in an effort to explain who they are.

Years ago, I was introduced to the pioneering, self-described “biopsychosocial” theory of self-explanatory storytelling of the late Clare W. Graves, the American psychologist. I’ve yet to discover a better model. So I’ve spent much of my career seeking to make his model—which is sometimes called “the theory of everything” and can quickly overload anyone who comes to it just wanting to know a little bit about a few things—more accessible to ordinary souls.

I love all my model-children equally, but first among equals is the schematic that Dr. Paul Kordis and I put together a couple of decades ago and still continue to expand. That would be the water creatures model that was the focus of our book, Strategy of the Dolphin.

The users of the Carp story explain themselves to themselves as perennial victims. They see the world as being against them, and much of the time, they can be forgiven for thinking so. Life is hard. There aren’t a lot of opportunities to bootstrap one’s way upward economically, socially and culturally. There are more Carp storytellers on earth than any other kind. The Carp story reeks with vulnerability. Where it is heavily in use, there is often much resentment and anger and suffering. Can IEDs, suicide bombers, child and spousal abuse, public protests that turn bloody and political Tea Parties that turn shrill and accusatory be far behind?

Next comes the Shark storyteller. The user of the Shark story usually feels entitled. And often for good reason. They hold most of the cards and many of the marbles. The easiest way to learn how to tell the Shark story is to be the daughter or son of someone who told it well. In the 21st Century, the most formidable redoubt of the Shark storyteller is the major corporation and governments and other agglomerates (like universities) that act like one. It is important to the Shark story user to appear confident, in the know, on top of things, and really a pretty good Jane or Joe. Funny thing, though, how often Shark waters turn bloody, good Jane, good Joe or not.

Someone who isn’t forced by dire life circumstances to use the Carp story and who has the sensibilities to understand what a dead-end the Shark story tends to be often gravitates toward a much more fructiferous story. In fact, it sometimes seems to me like the brain has suddenly discovered itself when it arrives at the ability to tell this next story. That’s because, welcome improvement that it is, the new story and its user soon seem to be surrounded by wretched excess. Not by money, necessarily, although users of this story often do well enough. But a wretched excess of ideas, possibilities, symbols, connections and desires. Originally, Dr. Kordis and I called this the Pseudo-Enlightened Carp story. But we eventually came to realize that this was probably too harsh and an unnecessary diversion.

Because in being censorious of the premature assumption by persons suddenly able to tell this story that they have arrived at enlightenment, we were probably steering people away from a realization that they are very close now—psychologically, operationally—to a radically new, fecund, competent kind of story that people on the planet increasingly needed to hear and to which they need to self-adapt.

And so we changed the name of this new story to First Dolphin. It is only a beginning, important as it turns out to be. Truth be known and acknowledged, the First Dolphin story is the story being told of themselves by many of the people who are now feverishly connecting through Facebook and Twitter, who are raising the alarums about global ecological injury, who are scanning the heavens for signs of other intelligent “beings” in the universe, who are protesting against the treatment of the Carp storytellers and the abuses of the Shark storytellers and propagating the desire for a fairer, safer, more peaceful world.

Users of the First Dolphin story are nowhere near being able to live up to all their precepts or deliver on all their promises. But their story is a great improvement. And a critical spawning grounds. Already, at Brain Me Up, we are tracking two additional stories that have grown from the First Dolphin’s: the stories of the Prime Dolphin and of the Deep See Change Dolphin. It is one of these stories that, if the audacious theories of The Singulatarians come to pass, is most likely going to be the leading candidate for implantation in the “mind” of the artificial intelligence that they are predicting is destined to exceed our own.

But enough for now. If you’d like to know which of these stories you currently use to explain to yourself and others who you are—well, that’s the intended function of our newest Brain Me Up assessment. It’s called the Yo!Dolphin!™ Worldview Survey. Go here to know more. Be assured, our purpose is helping you understand and put to good use your life-story-making, not interrupt it, whether you are lying in bed musing about it or have your feet on the floor.

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