I’ve been on this kick about lions and gazelles for a few weeks now. Mother nature is so interesting if we stop and pay attention for a bit. Something that has come to mind recently is the the fact that the lion nor the gazelle have a story about their existence. As far as we can tell, they don’t try to create a story about their existence either.
Fiction is only possible because of story telling. History in some ways can only make sense if the recanting of that history has some sort of narrative arc. Stories give meaning and reason to events both simple and complex. It’s helpful to remember that there is ‘story’ and then there is the ‘truth’. Even a historical narrative has blind spots that might change the meaning of certain events inside that narrative, if those blind spots were to come to light. Take my enlistment in the military for example. The story the the military presents to the public is that of a highly organized, efficient, and disciplined organization. When people find out that I’m a veteran they often make the mistake of thinking that the military gave me my high level of discipline. Absolutely not! I had high levels of self-discipline long before I joined the military. In fact, the military was one of the most disorganized organizations I have ever been a part of. It can be shockingly inefficient but that’s what good marketing handles. Good marketing tells you a story. Good public relations tells you a story. A good speaker (yours truly) tells you a story.
The key is to scrutinize the story being told and assess it for validity. The gazelles don’t make up stories about the big evil lions that cause death and destruction to the gazelle lineage. The lion doesn’t make up stories about the first hunt being some sort of right of passage. The animals simply track patterns of what has been and they deal with what is. Instinctively, they move forward. Hunting if they need to hunt. Running if the need to run. Eating enough. Resting enough. The realities of nature are harsh and we are encouraged not to interfere as it is the natural order of things. Yet, we humans create stories about ourselves that simply are not true and these stories cloud our ability to see the truth… however harsh that truth might be.
When I went off to college I struggled with friendships. I had never had close friends before and I didn’t know how to handle light teasing among friends. To me, teasing was bullying because that had been my experience prior to entering college. When my new found friends would joke with me, sometimes their harmless jokes would trigger something in me and I would blow up. People’s concerns would come back to me second hand, “Why is he so angry? What’s his problem?!”
In my head I thought to myself, “If they knew how much I’ve been through they would understand… Why don’t they just ask?” In my mind I was the hero of my own story. The protagonist that had overcome all obstacles and defeated all enemies. This part of the story was supposed to be about walking happily into the sunset and enjoying the benefits of real friendships. I began to realize that my behavior was imposing and off putting. No one was going to be willing to build a relationship with me unless I got myself under control. It was a frustrating revelation:
“You mean to tell me that after all that hell I endured growing up, I have to apologize for my behavior?!”
“After all the people, including some teachers, that spoke to me like I was garbage… After I got not one single apology from any of those people… I have to apologize?!”
It didn’t seem fair. It seemed like a huge injustice. It didn’t match the narrative arc that was in my mind… And none of that mattered if I wanted to keep my friends:
“I don’t know what happens to me sometimes. I’m doing the best I can to be aware of my emotions, in particular my anger. I’m sorry for how I reacted the other day. Please forgive me.”
I desired friendship and that meant turning a mirror on myself. After so many years using other people’s behavior as the fire that drove me, I had no concept of how my own behavior affected others. I wasn’t the ‘Good Guy’ that I thought I was. It was time to face some harsh realities about myself. In doing so, I began to develop the tools of relationship that I never had before. I slowly began to learn what it meant to communicate my feelings and say what was on my mind. I’m still learning how to do this. What might have happened had I held on to that old story? What might have happened had I insisted on being right? As painful as it was in the beginning, looking at the truth help me to figure out where to put my energy in becoming a better friend. I’d rather have true connection, over a false story.
What stories from your past hold you back from connecting with others?