Stories are unfolding around us in every moment. We are awash with them. We are at the confluence of many powerful stories all competing for attention. Take the United States as an example:
Every nation has its own form of conflicting narratives. It would be easy to feel bombarded by stories. In fact that word makes sense when you consider the growing trend towards using stories as weapons against an enemy, a common tendency in times of stress and fear. Add to that the global pandemic, which is causing layers of unresolved trauma to arise in each of us.
As my colleague Paul Costello keeps saying, the most important real estate on the planet is the space between your ears. Stories will continue to seek to come and live there rent free. Will you let them?
The intention behind my upcoming book 365 ALIVE! Your Wake Up Call to Story & Life is to offer a map for growing your awareness of how stories work in, around and through us. The more awake you are to your own story, the more you can consciously choose the stories you live in. You become a Story Activist in your own life. I can't think of anything more important in times of transformation like these.
Anyone who has worked with me knows my passion for story as a powerful medium of transformation. I love how Martin Shaw talks about the business of story in Snowy Tower:
"The business of stories is not enchantment. The business of stories is not escape. The business of stories is waking up."
These current times are more than a storm in a teacup. And yet, tea is a perfect metaphor for this moment. It's the theme of Week Four of 365 ALIVE!.
WEEK FOUR: What stories are you steeping in?
The stories surrounding us shape our present and also our future. It is important to become aware of the story you're living in, because most likely. it will be the story you are living into as well!
Stories have great power. First, stories are part of the way our neural network -- our brain -- is structured. We hold our memories and experiences in story form. That makes them easier to find, but it also means they are fluid. Memories can change over time, as anyone who watches crime dramas can attest.
Perhaps you are like me, wondering about specific memories. Were they experiences I really had, or were they told to me often enough that I came to see them as my own? Were they shaped by a picture I saw in the family photo album? Did it really happen?'
We can be easily swayed by someone who has a potent and strongly held story. Our story can also be changed if we hear another version of it repeated and repeated over time. Propaganda in any form is an example of this phenomenon.
Family and ethnic cultures also work like a cup of tea where stories are concerned. An oft-repeated story can be taken as true, unless another story surfaces to change the perception. Each of us is a fabrication of the stories we hold about ourselves and the stories others hold about us. The same is true for societies and cultures. The stories might be true, and they are never the whole of who we are.
The same is true for stories we tell about other people. They -- whoever they are -- are so much more multidimensional and complex than one story can portray. Yet the human brain likes to simplify and lump things together in order to feel in control.
Our brains are geared to help us make quick decisions. This stems from an ancient human need for survival. In our hunter/gatherer days our brains were wired to make quick decisions to keep us safe.
Human culture can still act like this, making us less curious and more afraid of difference. Our brains evaluate others who are strangers to us in about three to five seconds -- about the time it takes to decide whether you will pick up a hitchhiker or not.
What does it take to make the space for wiser choice? As a friend of mine used to say: “You can’t tell who’s calling the tune when you stay on the dance floor. The only way to see the orchestra is from the balcony.” The reason for stepping back from the prevailing stories of culture is to be able to get some distance, have a look and then make an informed choice.
Go after a story and find out if it is really true. These days there are plenty of soundbites to choose from -- short storylines that people pick up on social media feeds and send around to everyone on their list. These stories travel like wildfire, but often they are not the full story. They may not even be true. Take on the role of investigative journalist and probe. Ask others in your family about a story of which you know little. Research an inflammatory headline. Find more perspectives on the same event. There is always more than one side to a story.
What stories have you been steeping in? Begin making a list of the stories that have defined your life and how you see the world. What stories have you received from your family, ethnicity, race, culture society, affiliations (like clubs, sports teams, hobby groups)? What stories have you received about your gender role, status, place in society, potential or future possibilities? What picture of the world has this given you? Is it the one you want to keep?
HAVE A LOOK...
Novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie reminds us of the danger of a single story in this brilliant TED talk.
365 ALIVE! Your Wake Up Call on Story & Life, a fifty-two week guide to understanding how story works in the world and reclaiming the power of your own story, will be published soon. Follow it's progress on www.getsoaring.com
Images: Szabo Viktor & Drew Taylor on Unsplash