12 August, 2009

Stories – Part I

I first became aware of how much we rely on our own made-up stories about how life is, how we are, and how others are in 1994. Since that time, I’ve been fascinated in my observations of myself and others, seeing this truth unfold before my eyes time and again.

My father is very good at making up stories. I remember as a young person riding along in the car on a family trip when we would, at some point in the journey, cross the path of where an earlier accident had occurred. My father, with sheer believability, would proceed to tell the family what had happened there and who was at fault. The accident might have happened hours earlier but he sounded convinced of all the facts.

While we’ve joked about my father’s habit of “telling stories” within our family, the truth of the matter is that he’s no different in his habit than the rest of us. The stories we make up may not go that far but the facts are, nevertheless, convincingly made up by our minds and we firmly believe them.

A made-up demonstration here would be in order. :-) Marcy had always avoided being in a group of more than four people, including herself. She said that it gave her anxiety. When asked why this was, she contemplatively thought for a few minutes, and then said, as if newly discovered, that she avoided larger groups of people because her mother always had. When asked why her mother exhibited this behavior, Marcy again sat silent in thought. She then said that she supposed it was because her father was a jealous man and didn’t like seeing her mother talking to too many people. When asked where her father’s jealousy came from, she reported that he was just like his father in that way. To delve further, she was asked from where her grandfather’s jealousy stemmed. She said she believed it was because her grandmother was very flirtatious. When asked from where her grandmother’s flirtatious behavior came, she said that she supposed it was from her Argentinean background.

Without taking you farther down this trail, you can readily see where this is going. In logic, if a = b, and if b = c, then a = c. So, logically speaking, Marcy had anxiety in groups of more than four people because her paternal grandmother was Argentinean! That makes perfect sense…….no?

The truth is we make up reasons for everything and everyone. We say that our boss is too particular because we think he has an Obsessive-Compulsive disorder. We say that the neighbor’s child leaves his toys all over the yard because we think he has Attention-Deficit Hyperactive disorder. We say that we’re afraid of the dark because our parents always turned on a night-light in our bedrooms as children. We make up stories for the way we behave, and more importantly, for the ways that others are without really bothering to know them or ask them.

Shortly after learning about how we make up stories, my sister and I were traveling home together (we lived in the same city at the time). We were in the airport waiting at our departure gate for our plane to arrive. My sister, who is an avid people-watcher, would poke me to get my attention and then whisper, telling me about the relational connections between others at our gate. Her observations all seemed to logically fit, but of course neither she nor I knew any of these people or anything about them. So, while we could assume all that we wanted, we never truly knew who they were or how they related to one another.

What stories have you made up about the people in your life? Have you made up stories about why people avoid you or why people don’t take you seriously? Have you made up a story that your boss or a co-worker is out to get you? Maybe you’ve made up a story that you’re too old to do X, or you’re don’t have the needed personality to participate in something.

I’m not saying that you haven’t found the evidence you need to back up your story. In fact, I’m quite sure that you have! Remember, we always find the evidence that supports what we are looking to prove. Once we’ve determined how something is, we will always find the evidence necessary to support our case.

What would happen now if you gave up those stories? Could you even give up the stories you’ve made up about yourself? Would that give you greater freedom to be with others? Would your boss or co-worker now have a chance at making things work with you? I invite you to give up your stories and see.

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