Once Upon a Time: The Story Bias


This month I have been privileged to rekindle many old friendships – primary schoolmates whomI have known for the longest time, teachers who have believed in me from my earlier days of childhood, and communities that embraced me with whatever I had to offer as a volunteer and developed me. Revisiting the earlier chapters of my growing up is akin to a journey to the past: there are memories as vivid as if they were yesterday and pangs of pleasure as I reflect on how the culmination of various episodes amounted to my convictions today. This February, I appreciate continuity.

It is sexy to tell the story of “how we came to be” in distinct episodes, clear climaxes and clean resolutions. Our love for drawing patterns prefer that “A leads to B” and “B to C”, you know, “that’s why D”. (On the contrary, we don’t quite appreciate “there was A, B and C – not really sure whether they were related even, but now we have D anyway”) In one of my favourite reads of all time, The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli, our love for having coherent stories is explored in the chapter titled Even True Stories are Fairy Tales. Dobelli calls this the “Story Bias”: our tendency to create stories to explain happenings in our life create notions that, at times, unnecessarily trap us with an idea about what we think we know about ourselves. Somewhere in between, we risk drawing wrong causal relations and creating fixed ideas about circumstances or people.

Let me be clear, I do see value in making a story of our experiences – to be able to do so requires significant commitment to reflection on what the experience has meant for us. Imagine our memory bank to be a shelf of books, every one of which representing a significant phase of our lives, experience from our past or person we’ve met. The repertoire of knowledge potentially serves as “anchors” in times of uncertainty for they may remind us of the strength we once displayed, the skills we have developed or the relationships once loved or lost. In a way, there is value associated to every one of them.

I guess this is one of the many balancing games. The intention is to ride on our stories so they may give us strength and skirt round the potential booby traps lie in the stories we tell ourselves for confirmation bias. I think in time, with the accumulation of more stories and experiences, I still want to be able to approach every new person as the stranger that they are (rather than the person I once knew that you’re similar to) and come to every situation excited and ready to learn (rather than feed over-confidence with memories of prior experience). May the “anchors” that I choose to hold onto be the anchor for merely my values.

In the midst of February’s revisits, I am consciously steering clear from being too fixated on writing a story while indulging in the bliss of appreciating these constants who explain how I might have came to be. This one’s to February, the month of revisits.



4 thoughts on “Once Upon a Time: The Story Bias

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