“When we deny our stories and disengage from tough emotions, they don’t go away; instead, they own us, they define us. Our job is not to deny the story, but to defy the ending—to rise strong…” ~Brene Brown
“This is deep,” my friend said and sent a video my way. I watched without sound and knew I’d need to watch again when I could listen so that I’d understand. A bunch of kids in a line for a race, some moving forward steps at a time, while others seemed to never move. I put it aside. As often happens, I was looking for a quote for what I wanted to write — this week about stories — and became sidetracked as I went back to the video from a few days ago. I suppose you could watch it and not be emotionally moved, but it would be difficult. Watching it silently now is really no less meaningful because I know why some of the kids are not moving. I think about the stories of our lives that way — people watch us without the narration that explains why we are where we are or behaving as we are. Brown’s quote fit better than I knew, as I thought about not only how we deny our own stories, but we attempt to deny the uncomfortable stories of others. As long as you and I are living and have a pen in our hands, we can own our stories and defy the ending someone else might think they’ve written for us.
I don’t know about you, but when I am driving along and see a person asking for donations at the corner, I wonder about their story — about what brought them there. I don’t take the time to stop and ask, though I sometimes would like to do just that. I think I’m afraid. No, not of the person, but of knowing their story and knowing that I couldn’t rewrite it. It might make me uncomfortable, and heck, even my own story makes me uncomfortable sometimes. While it matters that I own my story, it is equally important that I allow you to have your story. No, you don’t have to walk around with your story on a sandwich board. Even if you never share your story with me, it is incumbent upon me to remember that you DO have a story that has shaped you and affected how you handle various situations.
Research shows that we become better people as we engage with and listen to what another person has to share. Whether it is a parent listening to the story that explains why their child came home late from a date or a stranger listening as someone bursts into tears as the stress of the day reminds them of the child they lost last year, we are helping ourselves as much as we are helping the other person when we take time to hear what they are saying. We need to be unafraid to ask, “What is your story?”
Back to the video. It went something like this: “If you’ve never worried about where your next meal would come from, take two steps forward. Take two steps forward if you grew up with a father figure in the home…” and it continued. Some people didn’t get to take many steps, and when the questions were finished, those in the front turned to look at the faces of those behind them. Some people start off way behind because of their stories.
Yes, your story should matter to you, and it matters to me. It doesn’t matter if you are 15 or 95, this is your time and my time to help other people step forward in life regardless of the story that has held them back. We have that power, and it’s time that we use it to benefit ourselves and someone else.