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Pickle Me This

April 19, 2010

The fundamental need for narrative

My friend Alex pointed my attention toward Gene Weingarten’s article “Fatal Distraction: Forgetting a Child in the Backseat of a Car Is a Horrifying Mistake. Is It a Crime?”, which won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing. It’s a brutal piece, and I’m not sure I’d “recommend” it, because these kinds of stories are traumatic even to read about. But it’s a stellar piece of journalism, and pinpointed an idea that fascinates me, that has so much to do with story:

“Humans, Hickling said, have a fundamental need to create and maintain a narrative for their lives in which the universe is not implacable and heartless, that terrible things do not happen at random, and that catastrophe can be avoided if you are vigilant and responsible.

In hyperthermia cases, he believes, the parents are demonized for much the same reasons. “We are vulnerable, but we don’t want to be reminded of that. We want to believe that the world is understandable and controllable and unthreatening, that if we follow the rules, we’ll be okay. So, when this kind of thing happens to other people, we need to put them in a different category from us. We don’t want to resemble them, and the fact that we might is too terrifying to deal with. So, they have to be monsters.”

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