Change the Story, and the Story Will Change You
What story are you attached to that is holding you back?
A few days ago, when we were riding our bicycles back from school, my daughter posed a tricky question to me:
“Mom, do you believe that Eve eating from the tree of knowledge and that the snake losing its feet and being forced to crawl — are true stories?”
It’s a tricky one, since I don’t believe that biblical stories actually happened as they are told, but rather that they are rooted in some truth and evolved over time as stories and myths, in order to fulfill various social or cultural purposes. Yet how can I explain this in simple words to my eight year old kid?
First, I asked her if she believes in that, and I was relieved to find out that her reply was: “No. I mean, how is it possible — a snake with feet?”
It’s easier for me to tackle the imagination challenge. I asked her to imagine an animal similar to a snake, but one who’s standing on two legs, and doesn’t even exist anymore. When we came up with the dinosaurs as an answer, I explained about evolution. A possible explanation to the biblical story, I suggested, is that the crawling snake, as we know it, was once a dinosaur. Mission accomplished, my daughter was pleased with the solution. Yet, I remained with thoughts about stories, and their evolution over the course of life, cultural context and change in perspective.
Last week I had a friend from Europe visiting me. I live in the northern part of Israel, very close to the border with Lebanon, and the Jordan river is streaming and cascading less than two kilometers from my house. Considering the extremely warm weather we had and the beautiful scenery the river offers, it really called for a dip in the water. So there we were, lying on the shore and drying under a shading tree, absorbing the calm atmosphere that the green surrounding are creating, when suddenly my friend spoke up: “Can I ask you something?”
“Sure”, I replied, still gazing at the water.
“How did it even start, the Israeli-Palestinian story?”
I paused for a very long moment, which made my friend apologize for her inconvenient question. “Don’t worry”, I immediately reacted. “It’s not that — I’m just not sure about where the starting point is for this story”.
Eventually, I figured that it’s a matter of choice and anyone can start telling it from a different year, decade and even a century. I did my best to describe the main mile stones of the Israeli-Palestinian story, which is known as the “Israeli-Palestinian Conflict”, and I didn’t spare criticism from both sides, while trying to harness my practice to understand the un-met needs of the parts involved. It took me a while, and my ending sounded like: “Well, that was MY story of the Israeli-Palestinian story”. By that time, my friend already knew quite allot about the different political opinions in this country, making the point of various perspectives of various people quite obvious.
But suddenly a new realization caught me by surprise. “You know something”? I told her, “I’ve been telling this Israeli-Palestinian story for over 20 years now — ever since I was a team leader in the scouts and talking to young kids, through my military service — where I served in the Corps of Education and taught young soldiers some history — all the way to my days as a journalist. And the way I’ve been telling it along the years, has changed dramatically. I guess I myself have changed, my world view evolved, and I found out that there’s more than meets the eye…”
Our stories and narratives — even those that are based on the same history, events or experiences — change and differ not only between places, cultures and perspectives; they also change within us, with time. I don’t have any scientific evidence to present the correlation, but my own experience taught me that the more energy and especially intention we put in self-development, the more our stories will grow and develop with us. The more we cultivate openness and willingness to challenge our patterns and mental models, the more we will be able to embrace new narratives to the same old stories…
But why would we like to change the way we see and tell our stories - either our personal ones or collective stories?
We often get caught in a narrative, which mainly concerns power, ego and status. We are often the receivers of messages tailored by old generations, or influenced by prejudices and other harmful judgements. We deserve to own our stories, and not letting anyone else shape them for us. Changing the course of our personal lives or changing a course within our social surroundings is not easy to do. Yet it could be a first step towards reshaping and reframing the story we tell ourselves and others.
Examples are everywhere around us:
#Are we really not strong/skilled/courageous enough to make our decision becomes a reality?
#Our community or organization truly can’t manage the new ideas we wish to implement?
#The vicious, violent-circle our society is caught in for decades now, can’t ever stop?
#The unjust resource allocation, happening all over the world, won’t ever completely end, because in nature, “it’s the survival of the fittest”?
By questioning repetitive stories, we can start telling them differently and in doing so, bring about the change we desire.
If you think to yourself now: Wow, that’s a very naïve idea! - I would ask you to challenge your thoughts for a moment, and rethink the story of how changemakers are seen as naïve people in our current society. Try to imagine it differently, and for example associate changemakers with “entrepreneurship”, “innovation” and “ideation” instead of “naivety”, “cluelessness”, “bleeding hearts” and “tree huggers”. Can you sense the difference? Now we’re starting to change the story. Just switching a few words, creates a totally new context.
So how can we actually reshape our stories?
Changing some key words in the story and paying attention to framing and phrasing, is a good practice to begin with. By keeping our language as free from judgments as possible and remaining open to new people, ideas and perspectives, we set the intention to reshape our personal story or the societal story we’re attached to. But that’s just a start. Our next step should be attending to others needs, feelings and hidden sub-messages. Is the person standing in the line, speaking rudely to us because he’s a cold-hearted person? Maybe he carries a heavy weight on his shoulders, which we’re not aware of? Are our so-called “enemies” always the bad guys, looking to destroy us? Perhaps they wish to live with dignity as well, and simply can’t find the way to express it? (Or maybe we were not listening to begin with?)
I know, I know. Not so easy to practice in real life, especially when we get hurt, physically or emotionally. But isn’t that another story we tell ourselves; about getting hurt emotionally? Not always, but many times — often more than we notice — it’s our choice whether to stick to the story of getting hurt or to embrace a new one; a story of forbearance, forgiveness or peace-making, just to name a few.
The beauty of creating a new story is in the ownership we suddenly have of it, and the engagement it kindly asks us to accept. Reclaiming our stories again is an important step towards a better future — but it also has another great advantage: we don’t have to sit and wait for the future. Reshaping our stories, as individuals and as a society, immediately affects our current way of thinking, and therefore it has a huge impact on the HERE and NOW. And why would we deny an opportunity to positively reshape our present? What are we waiting for? What story are you attached to that is holding you back?
Photos: Matheus Ferrero and Mike Petrucci on Unsplash