Monday, October 3, 2016

What Character are you Playing?

What character are you playing?
We ARE Stories

On a leisurely walk up a hill overlooking the Pacific I was having a conversation about storytelling. My companion pointed out that every time we tell a story about something that happened to us we are functioning as novelists. Reality happens and then we talk about it. We spin it. It’s all a kind of fiction. We put it in perspective. (The contemporary phrase: “S---t happens” is already a narrative with a point of view. One of the functions of therapy is to talk about ones life with a professional. Past events are discussed and it is common to entertain the question: “Why did I do X?” Then client and therapist speculate about the probable causes of behavior. When both happen upon a story that they like, it is deemed “true” and everyone breathes more deeply as if understanding is taking place. 
Dr. D K Reynolds is fond of saying: “Nobody knows why anybody does what they do.” We can simply know that they did x. However, we are all story-makers, and events alone seem to require a context, a cause and effect story line. We all do this. . . without thinking. Whenever we describe an event we actively choose the role that we have played in the story. I’m guessing that we rarely give this a thought. We have already assigned value to the events as we talk about them. It is common to place yourself at the center of a drama in which you are the victim. 
Consider these stories.

1. “It took over an hour just to get to the freeway this morning. Traffic was a nightmare and there was an accident near Devil’s Slide. When I finally got to work, Alison was upset and cancelled our morning meeting. I think she is going to do the project with someone else.”

2. “Traffic this morning was moving more slowly than it usually does. I was fifteen minutes late arriving at the Office. I inconvenienced Alison who had arranged her day to meet with me first thing. I understand that the deadlines for this job require a commitment that it may be hard for me to meet.”

3. “Alison went ballistic at the office this morning. I mean, I was only 10 minutes late and she threw a hissyfit, and pushed me off the job we were working on. She is so unreasonable. I hate working with a boss who is so unfair. And, the traffic was bumper to bumper the whole commute. Honestly, some days I feel like quitting this job.”
These three stories describe the same set of circumstances. The central character (the speaker) comes off as a victim of events in the first story, as a contributor to the problem in the second, and as a victim of persecution in the third. Whenever we tell a story we are placing ourselves in it as having a role. What role do you find yourself playing?