As residents, neighbourhoods, and societies, we become what we imagine ourselves to be

The concept that we become what we imagine ourselves to be (or what we pretend ourselves to be) is from a quote in a book by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

The concept also brings to mind a line from William Blake, who speaks of people who became what they beheld. I came across both concepts somewhere around the 1960s.

Imagination – picturing things unseen in our minds – is a key element in storytelling – both in the fiction and in non-fiction genres of storytelling.

What follows is a continuation of a previous post entitled:

Public education about stuttering: Stuttering 101 – Globe and Mail, Dec. 9, 2010 (that is, twenty-ten)

Memes and self-talk

Self-talk concerns memes or stories we tell ourselves.

Assuming it has some relation to reality, positive self-talk is often helpful and may warrant celebration. Negative self-talk tends to be less than helpful, and can be addressed in three ways that I can think of, based on my own, anecdotal experience:

  1. Comparing notes with others
  2. Cognitive restructuring
  3. The practice of mindfulness

Like many people, I enjoy many forms of storytelling, and I like to ponder how stories are constructed.

Memes appear to be among the key features and foundations of storytelling, whatever form the telling of stories may take.

Memes and self-talk are interchangeable terms, in my experience.

A meme can be defined as an idea, behaviour, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture. I’m using a definition that I came across at an article highlighted at a previous post.

1) Comparing notes with others

The full meme that repeats itself, from time to time, in my own head is not precisely Those of Us Who Stutter, but rather, For Those of Us Who Stutter. The purpose of the “For” is not clear to me, but there it is.

I originally got started in volunteer work on behalf of people who stutter because every time I made a presentation to a large audience, in the first year after my attendance at an Edmonton speech clinic in July 1987, a particular refrain – namely,  You’re Not Supposed to Be Able to Do This – would run through my head.

To deal with the above-noted meme – a particular refrain, a form of negative self-talk, that would run through my head – I decided I needed to compare notes with other people who stutter.

In time, as I’ve explained elsewhere, I found a way to ensure that the meme, which had kept on repeating itself, and getting on my nerves, never bothered me again.

2) Cognitive restructuring

In the years after July 1987, I encountered plenty of self-talk that I could address systematically on my own, without a need to compare notes with anybody else. The meme that was associated with major presentations was in a separate, heavy-duty category, as compared to everyday negative self-talk, and for that reason, more work was required in order to address it.

The everyday self-talk could be readily addressed through a systematic form of cognitive restructuring. In this form of restructuring, I changed each of the negative instances of self-talk, and associated negative feelings, into alternative forms of self-talk.

At first, I needed to write down what the recurring negative meme was, before I could come up with a suitable alternative to it. In time, I learned to switch over, from the negative refrain to a positive one, without the requirement of writing anything down. It took some years of work, as I recall, to get to that point, in my cognitive-restructuring project.

3) Mindfulness

Another category of recursive thoughts, of a kind that can get in the way of a person’s equanimity, can be addressed in still another way, in my experience. Rather than focusing on such thoughts, I’ve learned to simply practise mindfulness. Mindfulness – the practice of awareness of the present moment – is a great technique for short-circuiting certain kinds of intrusive thoughts, I have learned.

When attention is turned to the here and now of the sensory input available to one’s senses, the strong presence of intrusive, recursive thoughts is dissipated, as a matter of course.

That Is So Impressive

These days, these many years later, another refrain that goes through my mind, and that I do not seek to alter, is the meme that says: That Is So Impressive.

That is a meme that I have no reason to change. It applies to things that I observe outside of myself. The Long Branch Neighbourhood Character Guidelines project comes to mind, by way of example; another example concerns the work of the Small Arms Society in Mississauga, and Inspiration Lakeview and Inspiration Port Credit; these are great examples. I have written many posts about them.

That Is So Impressive occasionally applies to work that I have done myself, and it also applies to first-rate books that I have been reading, such as the trilogy by the historian Richard J. Evans, concerned with the rise to power, and role in the Second World War, of Nazi Germany. I have been reading the latter trilogy ever since I began work on a project related to my late father’s photo album from the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympics.

Memes at the municipal level

In speaking about memes, I am speaking at an anecdotal level.

Memes operate at the individual level and at the level of groups, neighbourhoods, communities, municipalities, nation-states, failed nation-states, eras, epochs, and ages.

A municipal-level memes project, that is of interest to me, particularly at the conceptual level as it relates to storytelling and human agency, is the Story of M project, which I have written about previously. How this project is progressing, as time passes, is of interest to me.

The stories that we we tell ourselves – including memes based on visual imagery, stereotypes, political slogans, legal decisions within specified legal frameworks, advertisements, and memoirs – serve to express human agency.

Posture, gesture, gaze, and body language in general are also forms of storytelling.

Attending to, and ignoring (desisting from attending to), are forms of storytelling.

Privileging, editing, positioning, lighting, spotlighting, highlighting, and staging are in themselves forms of storytelling.

Human agency can be minimal, or it can be powerful

Some memes and stories are associated with rudimentary, lower-level forms of human agency.

Other memes and stories are associated with higher-level forms of human agency.

In my volunteer work, I have encountered a wide range of levels of human agency, among individuals and groups of people.

Human agency can give rise to outcomes that are helpful or unhelpful, constructive or destructive, as the case may be.

Whatever meaning or value we ascribe to an outcome, that is, is determined by the frame of reference that we bring to our perception, of the outcome in question.

With regard to frames, I find it useful to distinguish between 1) frames that are based on evidence, and 2) frames that depend on opinions and feelings and anything else, other than evidence.

Some frames give rise to destructive realities.

That is evident, by way of example, in a trilogy of exemplary, evidence-based studies by Richard J. Evans which describes the rise and fall of Nazi Germany.

Sometimes widely held memes are changed because people get tired of them. At other times, as in the case of the fall of Nazi Germany, reality intrudes, and the memes that are based upon non-evidence get pushed aside by the rush of real-world events.

With regard to Richard J. Evans, a historian whose work is strongly evidence-based, and who makes effective use of narrative structures in outlining key points, two previous posts include:

My father’s photo album from 1936 Berlin Olympics drives my interest in reading Richard J. Evans’ trilogy about Nazi Germany, and

Narrative helps us understand Germany in the 1930s (Richard J. Evans, 2004)


1 reply
  1. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:


    A Nov. 28, 2017 CBC article is entitled: “Stressed or anxious? A clinical psychologist on what causes those nervous feelings: And how to help manage your anxiety with mental exercises and self-understanding.”

    I like the reference, in the article, to a structured approach to breathing. So many great techniques are available to us, to enable us to get through the day in the best form possible.

    The article also refers to a previous CBC article (the year of publication is not stated), entitled: “Your cool kid status as a teen might have made you prone to anxiety today: A new study links popularity in high school with a greater risk for mental health issues as an adult.”


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