Projects, faculties, and personal narrative

What is the relationship between our faculties and our projects?

In my view they are reciprocal.  So my faculties, skill sets, and / or virtues contribute to my “success”—or not—in a given project, while undertaking certain projects allows me to enhance those faculties, skill sets, and / or virtues required for the success such projects (and not others faculties, virtues, etc.).

Yet can there also be conflict between my projects and my faculties?

I think so. Here’s an example:

Suppose that you meet someone special, and this is the most important relationship in your life to date. You come to know and love this person, and decide to marry him/her. We could call this a “project”: something in which one is involved and wishes to carry out to a good end. Other projects revolve around / feed into this project (such as finishing college or university, moving into a larger apartment, and developing relationships with this person’s friends and family), and this project itself feeds into larger projects (such as having a good marriage and, ultimately, “living a happy life”).

Now suppose that you find out some uncomfortable information about this person: a story about this person’s past relationship, with another person. Let’s play this out in several different ways.

First, let’s say that the story that you heard was rather vague and comes from a source that doesn’t seem overly credible. How do you respond? In other words, how do you use your faculties (your senses reason, memory, experience, imagination, etc.) to assess matters related to a given project?

Second, what if you begin hearing stories like this—concerning this person’s past—more frequently? And what if the information sources appear more credible? Third, what if you then begin to hear things about this person’s present activities: relationships with other people, now?

In other words, we choose to integrate new information—or not—based on a number of factors.

On the one hand, we often like to think that these factors relate solely (or mainly) to the relevance of the information and the credibility of the sources. Doubtless such considerations often play a big role. However, our decision to integrate new information is also related to the degree to which it is important to my identity that this project should succeed.

Further gut instinct and commitment impact how, when, or whether we integrate new information. If this were not so, then parents would be foolish to believe their young child is innocent based simply on the child’s say-so, and Christians would simply be deluded when they continue to believe in God despite contradictory information.

This is where “conflict” between our faculties and our projects, as I mentioned previously, can arise.

Now obviously much but depends upon the particulars of the matter. So perhaps this ends by me finding my fiancée to be profoundly deceitful: not being who I thought she was, I will not marry her; not being the judge of character I thought I was, I am less certain about future life choices.

On the other hand, however, there is an important connection between one’s projects and faculties and one’s story, or “narrative.” This is because, in my view, human identity is narrative identity. So in terms of my projects, I not only act in order to carry them out successfully, I also constantly try to attain the “narrator’s position” (both in terms of individual projects and in terms of my life in general).

Now none of us is capable of “writing” our own stories—life is always bigger than we are.

Yet we all attempt to tell our stories in a way that both makes sense of them (to ourselves and others) and that shows how and why the obstacles that we faced were overcome, integrated into the project such that we nevertheless completed it successfully, or we chose to change / abandon the project for the sake of a greater goal—a particular, overarching “good.”

Thus sometimes I narrate my story—and its projects—against the events. This is so because I perceive (and so narrate) events according to certain “vision” of the world, a vision that flows from and makes possible my desire to achieve a particular “good” (which is part and parcel of seeking to become a particular self). So this vision of the world, which aims at this “good,” directs how one narrates one’s larger story.

In other words, the narrator—not the events—recounts the story, such that narrating is structuring and including events so as to further the plot of one’s own story. So while the unexpected arises, sometimes I “emplot” events so as to resist major changes to my story, perhaps delaying incorporation of more dissonant themes or accommodating my story to less dissonant ones.

So what is the practical impact of all this?

In my case, the vision by which I seek to orients my story is love and the “good” to which I aspire (and seek after) is truth / truthfulness.  Hence one of my guiding assumptions / understandings is that love and truth, truth and love are co-central to human existence and divine character.

Much, much more could be said here, particularly about one’s narrative not simply as a story but as a “work of art.” Yet hopefully this sheds some light on our projects and faculties being “in conflict,” why / when this conflict is negative, and why / when this conflict may be positive (with this caveat: my wager is that whether such conflict can be positive depends upon what vision one embraces and to what “good” one is committed).

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