Can I tell you a story?

Oh, how I love a good story. I love to tell them and I love to hear them – maybe telling them even more so. I always get a little pleasure from things that happen to me if I can have fun sharing the story later – even if it wasn’t that much fun at the time. When I was single, I used guys I dated as a source of good stories. My favorite was a French guy with whom I had the perfectly stereotypical dramatic moment. The added plus was telling the story with my fake French accent. I even got requests for that one.

I think I may have gotten this storytelling thing from my father who was born in the Appalachian mountains in Tennessee and is the classic Scotch-Irish/Cherokee blend. He has always driven my mother nuts with his embellished stories. His stories never follow the exact facts and my mother is very truth oriented. Ironically, I have suffered from that same hyper-truth focused mindset which leads to one of the many ways I have a conflicted personality. But fate sent me a storytelling husband of Irish blood with the gift of blarney. I balked for years when his stories took a turn away from the details of an actual event that transpired. One of the blessings of a long relationship is that you have time to eventually learn the lessons you have been ignoring. One day, it hit me that stories don’t need to be perfectly true and actually never are. Not only is storytelling an art that deserves some creative license, but everyone is always telling their own version of the truth.

It is really a false sense of truth with which we go about our lives and it leads to many problems in our society (such as, relying on unreliable witness testimony). To what degree “the truth” really exists is an interesting question. One of the things I learned in a North American Indians anthropology class was the practice of telling a sacred myth in a contemporary context. It is a way that beliefs are kept alive and relevant. There is a central essence that is passed down through generations but the story is told in a new way every time. What a totally different mindset and valuable aspect to oral traditions. We value the written word so much but it can trap us too. I see that in those who fixate themselves on the written texts of their religious traditions.

Stories are powerful and they play an important role in society. The media tells a story and people often don’t really care if it is true. What matters to them is how good a story it is. Good stories are difficult to remove from our consciousness even if they aren’t true. It was puzzling to see how threatening a novel was to religious institutions when the Da Vinci Code became so popular. However, if you think about the power stories have on us, it makes a strange kind of sense. It explains the power of the bible versus rational analysis. There is a clear preference for story versus fact in human culture. We also tend to mix up the two of them.

When you think about it all human beings are storytellers. We create the context of our lives and give it meaning. We do it collectively and individually. There are always more than one way to “spin” or react to the events in our lives. We are constantly weaving a story whether we are conscious of it or not. I have been trying to take notice of the one I have cast myself in. Do I see myself as the victim or the hero of the story? How does that shape my ability to cope with what is happening? Being more conscious of the limitations and power of my perceptions is something I have found to be very valuable. Seeing myself as the teller of my own story helps me to take more responsibility for my life and my perception of it.

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