The Unknown Story
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | May 1, 2018 (modified January 21, 2023)
Knowledge of the cause of an event gives security. We often skip gaining actual knowledge by assuming a cause and acting as if we know.
There is a story behind everything—the picture on a wall, a scar on a knee, or an uncomfortable feeling. Sometimes the story is simple; other times complex—the picture from that fantastic weekend getaway, the scar from a childhood game; the emotion from complex unknown experiences. We march through life just catching glimpses of the truth. Most experiences are laden with unknowns hidden too deep for us to discover. We can’t avoid this reality. We must still act and move towards our goals.
Our minds are magicians, just as the brain fills in holes from the natural blind spots in eye sight, creating a seemingly flawless visual representation of the world, our mind also creates a coherent story from the broken pieces of perceived reality.
We believe we know the reasons for Susie being mean, and for our boss’s smile; but often these contrived meanings miss the mark, ignorant to many of the facts motivating the action. We look at the cover of the novel and ignorantly tell the story we believe to be on the interior pages.
Causes for Behavior
Knowing the reasons behind an action has a great utility for managing life. When we know the reasons, we can act with more confidence. When we know the cause, we can affect the outcome. The known story has great value to create security. Unfortunately, life holds secrets.
People, tragedy and even good fortune often spring forth from complexity. We can identify bits of the causes, singling out associations, but the exact equation leading to the moment remains unknown. Instead of walking in faith, with curiosity of what will befall us, we seek security through self-created stories of meaning.
"Developing mindfulness of thought, we see how our beliefs, opinions, and fears can blind us."
Humans have engaged in story telling since the beginning of consciousness. Organizing causes to explain the unknowns. Traditions, superstitions, cultural biases, and religions explain the unexplainable. We do it on a grand scale with millions of people and on a very personal scale labeling a partner for their failures.
While assigning meaning typically occurs behind the closed screens of consciousness, we can expose errors, and redirect our thoughts to more functional explanations that include elements of the unknown.
Healthy unbiased living requires confronting these automatic judgments, considering the presence of many unknown stories behind the observed behavior. This is discomforting, leaving us without a clear explanation for a slight or insult. As we mature, we understand that the untold story often includes suffering. Kindness is often the best response.