The Importance of Distinguishing Between Narrative & Reality

Jacob Devaney
6 min readJan 5, 2024

Most of us enjoy consuming a good story more than learning dry facts. Facts, though they may underlie our reality, can be boring. They require effort to integrate and place into context, they may even challenge or upset our world-view… whereas stories (narrative) are enjoyable, easy to digest, and entertaining. This has caused us as individuals, and humanity as a whole, some very unpleasant outcomes. In an era of media lies, government propaganda, corporate targeted marketing, social engineering, and global transformation we must all learn how to clearly distinguish between narrative and reality.

Every myth is psychologically symbolic. Its narratives and images are to be read, therefore, not literally, but as metaphors. -Joseph Campbell

Narrative is a story or mnemonic device that helps us tap into how our brains naturally remember and process data. However, problems arise when things that are considered “true” within the context of a narrative are false in reality. Facing cognitive dissonance is inevitable. It is how we grow and evolve.

Don’t sweat the choice just know the difference.

By nature a narrative is designed to only include ideas or information that support and strengthen “the narrative”. Narratives are about blinders and framing. Narratives invite us to suspend disbelief and discard information that does not fit the story. They allow us to simplify our world-view into naive delusions of good vs. bad and right vs. wrong.

From this perspective we often choose to see information based on its’ context within the narrative rather than its’ context within reality itself. Sometimes it is very hard to distinguish between narrative and reality but it is imperative that we know how to do this.

Group-Think and Collective Narratives: Shared stories are what binds communities, friendships, and nations together. This is healthy when these collective-narratives are based on facts and reality. Yet when they are disconnected from reality they become very destructive. Collective narratives can create new worlds yet they can also be used to justify atrocities like fascism, genocide, and ecocide.

Group-think is a natural result of being social creatures. A lack of self-confidence can lead to a need for social validation. That’s why adopting a collective-narrative is safe because it is an easy route to finding acceptance within the group. Sadly, discernment, self-reflection, and mental clarity are often discouraged in communities of group-think.

This tendency to seek acceptance is hard-wired for us social primates. Historically, being exiled could literally mean death as you would be facing a long cold winter alone without the help of your community to survive. In a similar way today if you are “canceled” it can mean losing your job, your social status, your friends, and your freedom.

When we over-identify with a narrative we may even gain a sense of confidence and self-righteousness. This is always rewarded within our collective group-think because the group is defined by the shared narrative.

We become gatekeepers, ordained by the power of our chosen narrative (and the group), to deny, ridicule, and oppose any ideas or individuals that challenge the narrative. When taken too far people will become cult-like and begin dehumanizing others who don’t prescribe to their narrative. This is when we need to notice the red flags…

“This they tell, and whether it happened so or not I do not know, but if you think about it, you can see that it is true.” ― Black Elk

Personal Narratives: The core of your personal narrative is rooted in a combination of conscious and subconscious belief systems. Some of these belief systems existed before you were born and many of them come from our family or the culture we are surrounded by. Basically your personal narrative is a combination of inherited collective-narratives, beliefs, and group-think. Discernment, self-reflection, and mental clarity are the best way to re-write these personal narratives.

Your personal narrative is how you curate your life experiences and recognize opportunity. It is a filter that allows you to notice certain things that validate your worldview while keeping a blind-eye to anything that doesn’t support your personal narrative.

When we allow our beliefs to be challenged they will evolve quickly. If we refuse to do this our worldview can shrink, get distorted and we become increasingly disconnected with facts and reality. That’s why welcoming a diversity of sources and friends is important. Staying open to dissenting critiques of our narrative is crucial and healthy.

Challenging deeply-held beliefs and narratives can be triggering.

Marketing Narratives: Truth is multi-faceted and messy with layers of nuance. Truth-seeking requires questions, open debate, and challenges. Whereas propaganda and marketing narratives are always clean, you are to trust them without question. These narratives are crafted to be easily adopted.

Yet in reality sometimes opposing ideas can both simultaneously be true which can be confusing. This confusion is healthy because it keeps us humble and curious instead of rigid and self-righteous.

We’ve all heard the saying, “if it sounds too good to be true it probably is.” We may just as well say, “if it sounds too good to be true it is probably a marketing narrative.” I thought about writing separate sections about partisan political and religious narratives vs. facts but I think you can probably see how that works based on the examples above.

“We need myths that will identify the individual not with his local group but with the planet.” ― Joseph Campbell

Stay Humble: It is the acknowledgment that we don’t truly know that allows us to explore and seek answers. Truth seekers tend to be more willing to accept new ideas whereas those attached to a narrative just want simple answers like, “what is right/wrong”, or “who is the good guy/bad guy”.

Since facts can evolve and truth can be messy it is always important when conversing with others to distinguish if you are on a fact-finding journey of truth discovery together or if the conversation is actually about defending conflicting narratives. Sadly it seems that most people spend more time defending their narratives and not enough time questioning them.

Stay Human: We humans forget too easily that it’s okay to not have all the answers. It is healthy to NOT take ourselves too seriously, humor is good medicine. Life is fluid and we are living in a time where everything we know is being redefined, it’s okay to question the answers.

I usually start with the assumption that if a narrative is coming from corporate media, the government or some sort of political lobby group then it is probably a narrative sculpted for an agenda or to influence my behavior. Buy this, vote for that, fight for the good, extinguish the evil etc. These are simplistic narratives for simple minds.

Old paradigms are crumbling and new ones are emerging. So clinging too tightly to narratives is not recommended. It is okay to own your ideas, beliefs, and narratives but it isn’t always good if they own you. You are your own distinct being swimming in a realm of endless ideas. We are all just doing our best to, “keep it real.”

Celebrate the questions. We are narrative-driven social beings. Stories will always be more exciting than dry facts yet we must stay connected to reality. Make time to step back, reflect, and strive for the mental clarity that will keep you balanced as we embrace the transformation that is inevitable on this life journey.



Jacob Devaney

Cultural-Creative, Media-Maker, Dreamer, Musician. Technology, Art, Science, Health, Spirituality, Culture, Community, Environment. UNIFY Co-Founder