I read an article recently on the importance of children learning to tell their own stories. When I say ‘telling stories’ it may sound as if I’m in favour of kids lying to their parents, but actually, learning to narrate our own stories is vital to the understanding of the self.
Learning to imitate, to use language, to understand tone of voice and body language influences how we grow up, expectations and how we communicate with others. However, what intrigued me most about this article was its claim that we also come to understand the flow of time, and in understanding flow of time, we understand ourselves.
“How does that work?” I hear you ask. Well, imagine this conversation:
Mummy: Do you remember the ice-cream at the park last week?
Mummy: Well, if you’re a good girl, we’ll go again tomorrow.
Child: I’m a good girl.
The obvious thing here, is the reward for being good – conditioning and blackmail all in one! But the not so obvious, is the picture the child has. The ‘self’ she sees eating ice-cream last week is not the self of today sitting in the room playing with bricks. The self she pictures eating ice-cream tomorrow, is also not the self of today. She learns to differentiate. By picturing an ‘other’ self, she is building a story of herself through time and learning to narrate it. In narrating it, she is slowly creating a self. “I am a good girl and Mummy is taking me to the park to eat ice-cream” repeated often enough becomes I am a good person, and being a good person becomes important to our understanding of who we really are.
So, what happens when we say, ‘I don’t know who I am anymore?’ Have we lost our ability to narrate, to connect with the flow of time, of who we were and who we have become, of what we should be? I’ll leave you to ponder.