The Oscillating Narrative

One of the things I have learned to do over time is to read, listen and notice without focus. To allow what I am paying attention to form its unique shape, rather than force it into a container of context.

This morning, like most mornings, I was listening to “Farming Today” on Radio 4 at 5:45. It’s become a habit because I have developed enormous respect for farmers as exemplars of working with uncertainty and the sheer variety of approaches of managing within it. This morning those approaches varied from nurturing soil health naturally to the efficient and profitable management of “protein production units” (or to you and me, sentient animals.) In between were a range of other stories, each with their unique context, from the degree to which we might return to office-based working to the shortage of lorry drivers. I find it a productive exercise to consider what links them, some form of “lowest common denominator.” But, as is often the case, I did not need to look for it, as it found me in the form of a passing comment in another story.

Somewhere in the middle of “thought for the day”, the phrase “oscillating narrative” crept in and registered and connected to some reading I did a while ago and provided the link for me.

There are three types of narrative – the upward, around how things started badly and improved – the classic story of immigrants establishing themselves in a new and strange community. Then there is the downward narrative, a fall from grace when circumstances conspire to bring the successful and comfortable down to earth with a bump.

Joining them together is the oscillating narrative that recognises them both as part of a longer whole. Finite games that are part of an infinite game. All of us, if we trace our families back, will find an oscillating narrative.

It matters because it ground us in reality and that whatever is happening now is temporary, part of a bigger picture that precedes us and will outlast us. It makes sense of where we are and what we do. To be grateful for what we have at the same time as we plant trees we will never sit under the shade of.

Whatever we do today should be grounded in a sense of contribution to something important that is more than we are. Anything else is either hubris or defeatism, and we don’t have time for either.

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