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Like magic, our stories turn something into nothing and nothing into something

There’s a piece of paper on my desk. It measures 2 inches x 3 inches.

Is it valuable, do you think?

Let me tell you more. It has a bar code below the words “Cineplex Cinemas: Admit One. Present this ticket to a cashier to exchange for one admission ticket.”

What do you think now? Is it valuable?

But wait. There is more. “Expiration: April 30, 2016”

So, not so valuable after all.

For a moment, you and I could both believe that a mere piece of paper had power. I could take it in my hand and go places where others could not so easily go. Then, in a magical kind of way, the same piece of paper instantly became worthless recycling.

Nothing physical about the item changed, but the power it held dissipated into the ether. The science remained the same, but the story changed. Like magic.

When my kids were little, they became quite upset when they got “jinxed” by friends; they bought into the “jinx” story. I said to them, “You can only be jinxed if you choose to be jinxed.” They didn’t believe that though, because the stories of friends hold more power for children than a mother’s thoughts on the matter.

The power doesn’t exist in the object or the words, it comes from us. We choose to give it to them.

Everyone has objects to which they transfer their power: sports memorabilia, Beatles artifacts, paintings. The sticky point is: not everyone buys into the same stories. A World Series home run baseball is only valuable to people who don’t say, “Baseball? Who cares?” Beatles memorabilia only counts to those who don’t dismiss them as overrated. How about a painting like “Voice of Fire.” Is it worth 1.8 million dollars to you?

For Roman Catholics the consecrated hosts and wine of communion are much more than bread and wine. Scientific-minded sorts scoff at this. They don’t buy into the commonly accepted story. Those same scientists use money every day, so apparently they readily accept some forms of magic, but not others.

Money is big magic. If I want to go to see a movie—now that we’ve all agreed that my coupon piece of paper is not magical—I have an alternative. I can pull other magical pieces of paper out of my wallet, hand over an agreed number to the theatre and happily enjoy the film.

Of course, it depends which city I’m in at the time. If I were to pull out colourful Canadian pieces of paper at a movie theatre in an American city, they would be viewed with derision. Our paper is not so magical in the US.

The paper itself doesn’t change, but as soon as our car drives across an imaginary, magical line the story does. (Or in the case of our wonderful Canadian money, the polymer doesn’t change, but the story does. We really do have some of the finest money in the world.)

Commonly accepted stories help our society to function. If we all accept the story that red means stop and green means go at a traffic light, we prevent accidents. If we buy into the story of concert tickets, we avoid stampedes at Paul MCartney concert hall doors. (The Beatles are definitely NOT overrated.)

Beyond that, we have to recognize the stories for what they are and choose to delegate our power carefully. I’ll keep this Steve Rogers baseball on display because I love it, but you can bet that I won’t be bidding on “Voice of Fire” any time soon.

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