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, for example, 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. DK Reynolds is fond of saying: “Nobody know 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?