The news lately has been exceptionally confusing. Deception. Deception about deception. Truth being called false. Buried secrets and #metoo revelations. Forget about combat with other nations—our own faith and trust in our own citizens as human beings has been badly shaken. Oh, and maybe our government will shut down. Lincoln said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
Around that same time, Thoreau wrote, “Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.” But there may be something else that counts, something beyond the plain truth, that is as important.
The story we tell ourselves about happened often determines what we will do next—whether or not what we believe is true. What we remember, even what our brains subconsciously retain, matters deeply for the future.
Chris Ware may be primarily known for his comics and illustrations. But in his humongous and recent book, Monograph, his writing just as boldly bridges imagination and reality, and really eloquently makes a case for this:
“As a young artist, the easiest way to acquaint oneself with communicating real, felt emotion is to try to communicate the emotions one has, well, already felt. But at the same time, our memories are faulty, uncertain and fragmentary; regardless of whether we consider ourselves memoirists or storytellers, we are all always recomposing our lives from ever-decomposing pieces and stems. In short, we are all natural-born fiction writers. And I believe it’s that very ability to tell stories which makes us most human. […] Ultimately, we’re all working on our own graphic novel of our lives, and in doing so trying to understand, feel through and hopefully empathize with others as well as with our selves. Whether one’s own story is more or less true is frequently less important than how it sits in our memories. And besides, that story is all we have.”
We can be damaged far more by what we believe happened (the way it sits in our memory) than by what actually happened. A lifetime of emotional burden can be more painful and damaging than the momentary injustice—this can be the greater harm someone may inadvertently cause another.
At the same time, we can be far more empowered by what we believe than by what has happened to us.
So, truth matters. But the way we process the truth might matter more for what comes next. Through all of the confusion on the news, I hope that people will recognize that the noise of this conversation is itself shaping what we will come to believe about the world. It might be the truth or it might not be. Either way, the chaos is influencing the development of our worldview right now…which affects what we’ll do next.
Is it entirely up to us what story we end up believing in?
Maybe only in part. After all, graphic designers, writers, filmmakers, podcasters, artists, comic book creators, and other communications specialists get to transmit information, and they get to shape what people remember.
This power is not to be taken lightly.
(If you’re a fan of gigantic books, or highly detailed books, or books that contain tiny books glued inside, or books that feel like a peek inside an artist’s studio, or books that provide an escape from distressing news, you might love Monograph.)