Have you ever wondered what makes people interpret the same moment differently? Those who study human behavior believe we each have stories that significantly impact how we see and experience the world. Our stories are formed in our childhood through socialization — what we are intentionally taught at home, in school, and in churches and through our personal experiences. The stories change in minor or major ways as we mature. Some of us are very aware of our stories while for others they are creating patterns in our lives that we have trouble understanding.
Here are just a few examples of stories. Each are expressed as binaries purely to represent possible opposing points of view. Your story is likely somewhere in between.
1. People are generally kind and benevolent vs. generally competitive and selfish.
2. I have agency and autonomy over my life vs. society or authority figures control or constrain my choices in material ways.
3. The earth is here to serve us humans and to use as we see fit vs. we humans are one with the animal, plants and rocks.
The good news is that we are not stuck with the stories we have now and that stressful times can be seen as a gift for identifying a story and assessing what parts of it do and don’t serve us. Here are a few examples to illustrate.
One of my stories is that confronting a person won’t improve the situation and will create tension, awkwardness and might even result in retaliation. Recently, after months of grumbling to myself and friends about loud parties that were carrying on into the wee hours of the morning almost every day in the rental next door, I found myself outside when one of the tenants and his buddy were being loud and obnoxious at 6:50 on a Saturday morning. With contentment, I can report that in the weeks since the “neighbor smackdown”, virtually all the loud parties have stopped and there have been no signs of retaliation.
When my sister planned a trip to New York City awhile ago, she was feeling a little intimidated about being in a large, unfamiliar city all alone. She decided to seek out kind faces and ask for help when she needed guidance. In 100 percent of her encounters with strangers in NYC, people responded positively to her.
Some of our stories have us stuck in patterns that are getting in the way of us becoming our best selves. It’s not too late to change the stories that are unhelpful and that are causing us stress. Use the difficult moments to identify your stories, then challenge them and grow.