As I noted a few days ago in "Are you endurant or transient? Me, I feel like I'm a bit of both", there was more to say about this distinction between people who feel a sense of continuity about themselves during their lifetime (endurants) and people who feel that they're being constituted anew as their life unfolds (transients).
Part of that additional saying relates to what Galen Strawson, whose book ("Things That Bother Me") is where I'm getting these ideas, calls a narrative approach to one's life.
Meaning, we not only recall events in our life, but make a story out of those events in somewhat the same way as a novelist would. If someone asks, Tell me about yourself, a person with a strong tilt toward narration likely would relate their life in a chronological order: birth, childhood, schooling, marriage, jobs, children, grandchildren, retirement, and such.
Someone who wasn't into a narrative approach probably would be inclined to speak more about their life right now, giving little or no attention to telling a story about how the past turned into the specifics of now. Strawson writes:
Psychological narrativity clearly involves putting some sort of construction -- a unifying or form-finding construction -- on the events of one's life, or parts of one's life. This needn't involve any clearly intentional activity, nor any departure from or addition to the facts, but the narrative attitude must amount to something more than a disposition to grasp one's life as a unity simply insofar as it is the life of a biologically single human being.
Nor can it consist just in the ability to give a sequential record of the actual course of one's life, even if one's life does in fact exemplify a classical pattern of narrative development, independently of any construction or interpretation. One must have some sort of relatively large-scale, coherence-seeking, unity-seeking, pattern-seeking, or most generally form-finding tendency when it comes to one's apprehension of one's life (or relatively large-scale parts of one's life).
Religion or spirituality often is part of that form-finding narrative tendency. I'm not a Christian, but I'm pretty confident that when devout Christians get together they like to talk about how someone found Jesus or was converted to Christianity.
I know this to be the case with the India-based group I belonged to for 35 years, Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB). Learning how someone learned about "the Path" and was initiated by the RSSB guru was a frequent conversation topic. I certainly engaged in this, in part because I had such an interesting, and unusual, initiation story to tell.
But here's the thing about engaging in this sort of story-telling: as Strawson says, it involves more than just a straightforward description of the facts. This happened, then that, and afterward something else. In my experience a narrative view of life injects meaning into those facts that obviously isn't present when the facts are looked at from an objective point of view.
A key thing to remember is what I wrote about recently in "It had to be" -- a great four-word secular philosophy.
Looking forward from now, the future is uncertain. Looking backward from now, the conditions of this present moment were completely determined. Which means, everything that occurs in the future will eventually become the past that was also completely determined.
So It had to be, while a truism, is a valuable reminder of how reality outside of our subjective perceptions actually is.
We worry about an uncertain future, losing sight of the fact that it really isn't uncertain at all. Only one thing is going to happen: that which happens. Likewise, we engage in regrets about a past that didn't turn out as we wanted, losing sight of the fact that the past could only turn out in one way: that which occurred.
The big bang had to be. The formation of the Milky Way Galaxy had to be. The creation of our solar system had to be. Earth had to be. Evolution had to be. Extinction of the dinosaurs had to be. The rise of Homo sapiens had to be. The birth and death of each of our ancestors had to be. The circumstances of our life from infancy to the present moment had to be.
Pretty damn simple: It all had to be. No exceptions. Our joys and sorrows had to be. Our successes and failures had to be. My writing this blog post had to be. Your reading it had to be.
So the problem I now have with a narrative attitude toward my life is that I've come to feel that it doesn't make sense to view events as pointing toward a predestined conclusion. I'll use marriage to Laurel, my second wife, as an example, though I could have used my RSSB invitation and subsequent history with the group as another example.
A lot of things had to happen just so in order for Laurel and I to end up getting married in 1990. I've spoken about some of these things in other blog posts.
If I hadn't overheard a conversation in the San Jose State cafeteria back in 1970 about being able to get a Master's of Social Work degree in two years, almost certainly I wouldn't have applied to the school of social work at Portland State University here in Oregon, which brought me to this state in 1971, where I've never left.
And if I hadn't picked up a copy of Willamette Week, Portland's alternative paper, to pass time before a meeting of the state legislature started in 1989, I wouldn't have seen Laurel's personal ad, which appealed to me, and which I responded to.
When people ask how we met, there's a story I've cobbled together from these and other facts. And I admit that I tend to tell the story as if it was "meant to be" that Laurel and I met, dated, and decided to get married, since if any of the key facts in my story had happened differently, we wouldn't be celebrating our 33rd anniversary in a few months.
Here's the problem, though, with that sort of story-telling, whether it be about how someone found a religion or a marriage partner or a job or anything else.
Everything in life is meant to be once it has happened. That's a truism, and the point of my "It had to be" blog post. If I hadn't gone to a School of Social Work after getting a B.A. in Psychology, I would have done something else, and probably not in Oregon.
In that other place, doing that other thing, my first wife and I would have had a much different life than we actually did. Maybe we never would have gotten divorced. If we did, it wouldn't have been at the same time. And if I'd gotten divorced and remarried, it would have been to a different woman, not Laurel.
In that alternative reality, I'd be telling a story about how all that was "meant to be," because it was what actually happened. But in real life, only one thing happens. So making a story out of what had to happen isn't at all like a novel where the author can fabricate all kinds of different plot lines.
In real life there's only one plot line: what actually happened. And for that, we don't really need a story. Just a recollection of what happened.