The Stories we tell ourselves

One of these days I have to actually see Hamilton. This shouldn’t be a problem, as I am exceptionally fond of musicals. I haven’t made the effort because I was immediately repelled by the images I saw in ads of young women dancing around in what was clearly underwear while the men were fully dressed. It seemed sexist to me, and still does, although in other musicals from Oklahoma to 7 Brides have women dancing in their drawers (not with men around).
But recently I’ve been reading (in _American Nations: History of Rival Regions_ ) about history from that period, and wonder just how much BS has been included.
I know that when I picture John Adams, it’s William Daniels I see, not the round face we have preserved in portraits, or the brilliant mind shown in _Abigail and John_, I fear that someone has latched onto the snippet that Hamilton was from Barbados, just as, when I was young, the “black pride” people latched onto the idea that if Cleopatra was Egyptian, she must have been black, and put her forward as another powerful black woman who’s race had been suppressed by biased white historians. She wasn’t. (The Ptolemaic pharaohs were Greek, from the time that Alexander’s generals split his empire up- they just took the title Pharaoh because that’s what Egyptians called their rulers.) It’s a lovely idea that one of the founding fathers was at least a little bit black, but it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. (Also, I’m not a huge fan of rap or hip-hop and musicals are expensive.)
Now I read that Hamilton was strongly anti-democratic (he helped put in the Electoral college to protect the government from the commoners), and that he profiteered from the post war debts to the soldiers, he was against a free press, and all sorts things we don’t usually associate with Founding Fathers. I was also surprised at reading that Wilson, who is portrayed in the musical _1776_ as a wimp, was a powerful representative of the Appalachian side of Pennsylvania. It makes me suspicious of the other (appealing) characters from _1776_, and how their portrayal may be only what the story being told required. Eleanor of Aquitaine was an amazing woman- but look how differently she is portrayed in _Becket_ and _Lion in Winter_.
The stories we tell ourselves have to be taken as what we need to hear, not what is necessarily true. They show *A* truth, and to a great extent they create truths. There is a reason that some people will not believe evidence right before their eyes if it challenges a core belief. That’s such a human characteristic, I’m sure that it’s true of me as well, and wonder what things I believe that are not true, but that serve me. When we look at this what we can learn is what our needs are.  For example, if we look at what Trump supporters believe that isn’t true, we can figure out how to help them with their real problems. We only tell ourselves false stories when it fills a deep need. Sometimes that need is also BS, for example, when our inner critic tells us we are fat or stupid, it may indicate our need to be accepted, to agree with the people who first told us that. The story that Hamilton was black probably reflects the need for respect that doesn’t come with  slave labor, no matter how important that work was. Sadly, it does seem to present the need to excel and gather wealth and power in a more positive light than I’d put it, but it makes sense for modern blacks just as Hamilton’s early years make sense of his later behavior.
When we create stories about ourselves, they do become part of the fabric of the future, so we’d better be careful. Much of modern thought is grounded in the myth of infinite resources that was created in early America, and we are unwilling to let go, as that would require us to change both our sense of what’s right and wrong, and our behavior. So when we make stories, about ourselves or our past, we should think carefully about what we are saying and the consequences of taking that as a given, because future generations will.

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