For Part 1, the unconscious, Click Here.
The conscious mind represents the more complex side of every person. The conscious mind takes the simple desires of the unconscious mind and builds more elaborate goals around them. Where the unconscious mind wants to feel and enjoy, the conscious mind wants to overcome a challenge. The conscious mind is the problem solver; cracking codes, assembling pieces, all in an effort to achieve some kind of new understanding, a moment of insight that can only be called an epiphany. The question is, what does the conscious mind want to understand?
In this case, I’m going to propose that there are three levels of understanding: understanding the story, understanding the reason, and understanding the meaning. Each represents a stage of understanding, a foundation for what comes next.
1. Understanding the Story
Understanding is all about answering questions, and the first question is usually “what happened next?” Stories are all about a series of events, and how the characters respond to and work to resolve them. This inevitably leads to the resolution, “how did it end?”
Beginnings and endings represent the most basic order there is. The beginning is how the status quo was disrupted, and the ending is how a status quo was reestablished. Once the audience understands both, they can move on to the next question, why.
2. Understanding the Reason
Everything that happens can be considered both a cause and an effect. Understanding why something happens helps us understand how we might cause or prevent the same thing from happening again. This grants us a greater measure of control over our world. (Remember, most of us strive to achieve and maintain a healthy status quo.)
“Why” lies at the heart of most conversations. People like to discuss why. Sometimes it’s why something is morally right or wrong (ethics), why certain plants or animals are the way they are (science), why people make specific choices (pop culture), why someone likes or dislikes a specific piece of art (personal preference), or “why we are here” (religion and philosophy).
Stories represent a wonderful hypothetical scenario. Audiences learn about the characters, their goals and conflicts, building a model of who they are. Then, a difficult choice, one that forces both characters and audiences to really think. Of course the character does eventually make their choice, but that doesn’t stop audiences from continuing the debate, gaining new insights about themselves in the process.
3. Understanding the Meaning
In one sense, every story is unique, but every story is also an example of the types of experiences that people encounter throughout their lives. Most have never woken up one day to find out they are a famous wizard, long lost heir, or chosen one, but most people do know what it’s like to feel the weight of other people’s expectations upon their shoulders. They know what it’s like to struggle with identity when everyone around them is in a hurry to label them and guide them on a path they themselves don’t fully understand.
This is the third level of understanding, translation. “What does it all mean?” Remember, stories are hypothetical examples, both of what could happen, and how someone might respond. By comparing stories with our own experiences, we develop a better understanding of the problem, the key components that lie at the heart of the issue. By comparing ourselves to the characters, we learn what we could do, and how those choices might unfold.
It’s not always easy to discuss a topic, particularly if someone is very confident in their opinion, or if someone is uncomfortable with the topic itself. Stories represent an opportunity to disguise the issue. Not everyone is comfortable discussing issues like inequality or prejudice in regards to the modern world, but through stories like Harry Potter, Star Trek, and X-Men, audiences are able to engage those same issues in a way that’s more accessible, with less risk of upsetting someone who might have a more personal issue with the real world issues.
Of course it’s also important to bring those realizations back and apply them to the real world, but stories represent a safe space, a place where we can begin that conversation, laying the foundation for the next step.
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