Since last winter, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I call the stories we tell ourselves. In fact, I’m writing a book about it (400 pages stacked on the shelf behind my desk — an incredible mess for now). One of the questions I explore is this:
Why is it so hard to tell ourselves a new story? About our lives, our relationships, our work, our institutions, and globally?
When my daughter Madeleine was little, like all little girls and boys, she demanded the same story over and over.
Hearing a new story was nice… But a million times less interesting than hearing a story she already knew by heart.
Before she even knew how to read, she could “read” us her favorite books by reciting each sentence, each word as it appeared in the book.
Each night, she’d demand her daily dose of storytelling and choose among the two or three stories that she delighted in at the time.
Of course I tended to grow tired of repeating the same stuff way before she did. I’d hint at some other more exciting possibilities (to me at least).
“How about that one? We haven’t read it yet! It looks so interesting!”
« No! I want The little Kim! »
“That one again?”
“Yes!! The same story!!”
So… I would comply.
Sometimes I’d try to cheat by skipping a sentence here or there, changing an adjective — but she’d correct me immediately:
“Hey, Dad, no! That’s not it! You forgot a part!”
And she’d proceed to recite exactly the passage that I’d skipped, or correcting the adjective.
There was no way around it.
No way to lessen the passion she felt for her favorite story.
After some time, when the story had been well chewed, digested, integrated, in the end it would lose its charm and be dethroned by another. Madeleine would be ready for a new story.
As an adult there also comes a time when we long for new stories, right?
But here’s the rub: we’ve been telling ourselves the same old stories for so long that in the end we forget that they are only that: stories.
We believe we’re prisoners.
We say: “Here it goes again! The same story!” — but not at all the way a child does.
Not with enthusiasm. Not with joy, only exasperation. Then weariness. Discouragement. And finally shame.
The kind of shame that stems from thinking we’re victims of our own inescapable flaws.
“Always the same story. No way around it.”
The story feels so real, so solid.
But is it really?
Take a look at this:
What is being shown here?
A spinning dancer? Ok.
Which way is she spinning? Left or right?
Now, think about it: it’s not actually a turning woman, right? Just some black and white marks that move.
Now think again: what if the drawing was turning in the opposite direction from what seemed to be so clear when you first looked at it?
Do you see? (Take your time.)
To the left. To the right.
When you look in a new way, a new story may appear.