The False Lure of the Absolutes

This is the BEST BLOG POST THE WORLD HAS EVER SEEN. Well, in truth, that’s rather doubtful. But, how often lately are we seeing claims in the news and on social media that proclaim that someone or something is the MOST (something) EVER? Far too often, in my opinion. It’s one thing for us to say that something is amazing or powerful, or that we think it’s the best, but by labeling something as the biggest, most, or best something the world has ever seen, puts it in a different category. Unless you have successfully accomplished a Guinness World Record or won the gold at the Olympics, or something of that nature, you are simply engaging in the lure of the absolutes. This self-aggrandizing narrative style is designed to construct the story of indisputable greatness or unquestionable “bad”ness, and often at the expense of reality. It is intended to impress and manipulate, often without earning the title based on facts and evidence.

So why do some employ these absolute narratives? For some, it may be that they feel the need to not only succeed, but to conquer any and all others who might garner the spotlight or challenge their view of themselves. In this place, it comes from a deep insecurity or narcissism, one that can only be filled with others’ admiration and/or fear. But there is also another reason for speaking in absolutes. This reason is also a false narrative, but it is more insidious. Sometimes absolutes are intended to gaslight, and to manipulate others by framing things into a more concrete, black or white way. It then becomes an all or nothing; complete domination or utter submission; the greatest economy ever seen by anyone anywhere ever, or the worst economy in the history of the world; the epitome of the good warrior savior hero who can do no wrong and is your only hope, or the most evil, corrupt villain who will rain terror down on you if you let them.

These are all just stories, of course, so why do people fall so deeply into these absolute versions of people and situations? There is a strange comfort in understanding and labeling everything and everyone around us. Most people, when asked, would say that they never judge and label people, but in truth, they would be mistaken. One of the mind’s jobs is to assess perceived threats in the world around us. It does this by taking in sensory data and running it through our memory stories and threads it through our current worldview. Then, it labels and packages those observations into stories; stories of: “This is good. I want more of this. I need to be part of this. I feel safe with this,” and: “This is scary. I need to stay away from this. This will harm me. I don’t want to be part of this,” triggering an emotionally-charged reaction narrative running through our minds. Many of our emotional reactions to people and places come from this internal labeling and classifying of people, things, and situations, even if we aren’t aware that it’s happening, or consciously wish it wasn’t. So, when someone provides the narrative messaging that simplifies the process for us, we may still feed it through our mind’s assessment system, but if we hear it often enough from someone who we may already have affinity for, or agree with on other things, and they say it so convincingly and repeat it often, it may just well stick and become a narrative we start believing too. And that, is one of the ways propaganda works, and we are all susceptible to it. However, awareness of the way in which it grabs a hold, is the key to seeing through it.

Propaganda loves to speak in absolutes. It is one of the clearest ways we can tell when we are being manipulated. And when those absolutes are repeated again and again, that’s another way propaganda takes hold in our psyche. There are other signposts of narrative manipulation to look out for as well, such as use of symbolism and imagery, but for now, the next time you see or hear someone using absolutes about themselves, a situation, or about someone else, start questioning the message being delivered. You may just break yourself free from a narrative that is not only not true, but is intentionally skewing your view of the world around you.

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