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February 13, 2009
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We need ‘good’ stories


We are in between stories. The old story, the account of how the world came to be and how we fit into it, is no longer effective. Yet we have not learned the new story. The traditional story of the universe sustained us for a long period of time. It shaped our emotional attitudes, provided us with life purposes, and energised action. It consecrated suffering and integrated knowledge. We awoke in the morning and knew where we were. We could answer the questions of our children. We could identify crime, punish transgressors. Everything was taken care of because the story was there. It did not necessarily make people good, nor did it take away the pains and stupidities of life or make for unfailing warmth in human association. It did provide a context in which life could function in a meaningful manner. (Thomas Berry 1989 cited in Grassie, 1994)

William Grassie, Founder and Emeritus Executive Director of the Metanexus Institute quotes Berry and refers to the comprehensive, cosmically and historically encompassing stories or myths. Drawing on French philosopher, Paul Ricoeur, Grassie goes on to seek ways in which current narratives could be re-configured to take account of all global inhabitants, including the commonly neglected non-human ones.

The major, norm-setting stories of Western modernity have been framed around the progress and power that come from scientific and technological development and its products.

The subsequent post-modern challenge has been about recognition of those whose significance or agency has been marginalized or excluded from mainstream stories – for example, women, children, many indigenous or minority cultures, and ecology.

Questions that come out of such post-modern fragmentation now include who can speak the truth, or who has the right to tell our or my story?

The modern story of progress no longer has the purchase it did.

The disconnected narratives of postmodernism do not provide a coherent, viable alternative for life or for effective policy making.

Grassie makes the case for comprehensive new narratives to meet today’s needs.

Your comments and contributions most welcome


It was first presented at the US-Sri Lankan Fulbright Commission Symposium on “Imperial Entanglements in English Literature” in Colombo, Sri Lanka on January 4, 2008. The paper was also presented at the Metanexus Conference on “Subject, Self, and Soul” in Madrid, Spain on July 15, 2008. It was first published in The Sri Lanka Journal of the Humanities, XXXIV (1&2) 2008. This is a revised version of the published paper. Click here for a PDF version of this essay.


  1. Bindy says:

    Yes, my immediate response to the quote was “who is ‘we’? Can you assume my story is the same as ‘yours”? This repsonse overrides any rational comprehension of further points made by Grassie.

  2. Hazel says:

    Thanks for this question – you’re right. I liked the direction of the quote – from Berry (not Grassie) – and see much potential in inclusive narrative creation. I need to read more on Grassie but I think Grassie he has in mind the big stories – including the cosmos – whereas I’m interested in going between the big and the everyday.

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