The Perplexity of Others

one of my son’s projects

A fellow human being does something you don’t understand, how do you react?

It depends, probably.

Maybe you get confused, angry, or sad.

Maybe you tell yourself to keep an open mind, but maybe you’re clear on right and wrong.

I try to open my mind to another possibility. Sometimes I manage it. Sometimes not.

Now, if you read my blog, I assume you read fiction. Am I wrong?

But in the real world, I meet people who say things like, “I don’t read fiction. I only like true stories.”

A student of mine recently said she doesn’t watch movies because they aren’t real and therefore are a waste of her time.

Stories. A waste of time.

Okay, I realize I’m a fiction writer, and so my reaction is self-serving. Fine. Whatever.

And part of me does want to be reasonable and say, “Well, everyone is different and likes different things. That’s okay.”

But a less generous side of me exist. (Don’t you have such a side?) And this side says something more like, “What? What is wrong with you?”

Because, if I’m honest, that’s what I really think. Something is wrong with these people.

Don’t like fiction. What?!

My good-and-noble side battles with my I’m-right-you’re-wrong side. I fight the urge to shake these people. What did your parents do to you?!

Is it okay not to like fiction? What does liking or not liking fiction mean?

And this doesn’t even begin to touch on the people who don’t like fantasy or science-fiction. It’s not real, they say. I only like real stories.

One of my least favorite lines in the English language. I only like real stories. No matter how rationally a person says that, I hear it as only a whine.

And I know that deep in my heart I think something is wrong with that person even as I scold myself for being a jerk.

I recently watched a TED Talk (can’t remember which one at the moment) that talked about how we feel when people disagree with us. First, we think something along the lines of, “That person is stupid.” If we realize that person is not stupid but still disagrees with us, we think, “That person is ignorant. If they had all the facts, they’d agree with me.” Then we realize that the person is not stupid, has all the same facts we do, and STILL disagrees with us. We conclude, “That person is evil.”

I’m not saying I think you’re evil for not liking fiction…but…

I do think it is important to realize that normal, good people can get the same information and come to a different conclusion–and not be evil. Hard to put that into practice, don’t you think?

But I still think you’re living only half a life if you don’t like fiction.

8 thoughts on “The Perplexity of Others

  1. During my years as a psychotherapist, I learned quickly that what is one person’s reality is another person’s fiction. I was not a private investigator and my job was to take all my patient’s “stories” at face value, and not to argue or cross-examine them about what might have “really” happened, knowing full well they were full of distortions, biases, misperceptions, exaggerations, omissions, denial, paranoia, fantasy, projections, all sorts of crazy contortions we all bring to our version of reality, more or less depending on who we are and whether we are psychotic. What mattered most was how what they were perceiving had happened made them feel, and how to help them to feel better, improve their problem-solving and analytical skills, and behave in healthier ways. Stories, movies, “real” or fiction give us insight into human emotion, expand our experience to things we never would have come across, hopefully open our minds. Most memoir is half-fiction. How can it not be? Most fiction is inspired by real feelings or events experienced by the author about the human condition, even science fiction. When someone tells me they only like real stories and not fiction, I just assume they lie a lot, not so much to others, but mostly to themselves. Loved your analysis of the TED talk.

    1. I love this post, Marta. It encapsulates the inner conflict so apparent in the self-reflective. I agree also with The Querulous Squirrel (there! two agreements in one). Personally, I don’t mind if someone doesn’t like fiction (even though I write both fiction and non-fiction). I think the problem lies in the fact that not everyone can relate to the world of metaphor in which an artist thrives. In fact, it is not possible to expose Truth if we do not use the language of metaphor as the things of the soul cannot be said in any other way. Perhaps this person’s soul functions more in the world of ‘fact’. We all know that fact is, however, often the fruit of reductionism, Throughout time immemorial, societies have thrived on oral traditions, when story-telling was the only way in which knowledge was been passed down the ages. This is why ancient story is littered with symbolism and metaphor. Those images tell the story of how Psyche is constructed, and still informs everything we are today. To be disconnected form Psyche is like being a plant without a root, (even though Psyche controls unconsciously, so your student might be intelligent, but she is unaware of the forces under-mind that hold sway over her waking reality. These are told in story. I always find we are in muddy water when a discussion is either right or wrong and absolutist, such as your student expressed by her lack of understanding of the purpose of fiction. Maybe her loss, maybe not.,,, .

      1. Niamh, I can never decide if people such as my student are better off or not. Since I’m a writer it seems self-serving to think they’re wrong… But stories mean so much. I do agree with you.

  2. I can’t help but broach the subject of the shortness of our collective cultural attention span. When I talk to young people about reading, I sense a lot of excuses being made. I’ve heard the ‘only like real stories’ thing, but also stuff like: “I’m too busy living, like, my real life.” This from humans whose necks seem perpetually bent toward a small screen displaying words.

    Don’t get me started! Good post, Marta. I’m with you. (Particularly regarding those who deny the value and relevance of fantasy/scifi–after all, the first envisionings of those screens they love so much was in scifi stories.)

    1. Thanks, Vaughn. And excellent point about sci-fi and those screens. Sci-fi has given us much. It’s a shame how disrespected it can be. I’m with you though. I think some people just don’t want to put in the work for reading fiction. Well, I say work. It isn’t work for me. It’s fun. It’s what I’m meant to do.

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