Many times, taking a step back from stories allows us to truly understand them. Until we separate ourselves from events, we see them only through our own eyes. We know what happened, but we don’t know what it really means. We don’t realize all the implications. It’s the old seeing the forest for the trees problem.
Taking a step back can also help us see how our stories connect to each other and how they continue to influence our lives.
Last week I heard Sheena Monnin explain how a quintessential bullying episode when she was eight prepared her psychologically for the ultimate bully encounter. An ordinary incident gave her fortitude for an extraordinary experience. (Spoiler alert: Her pink pencils were stolen in elementary school. Click here for a video snippet with Anderson Cooper about her experience with the Miss USA pageant ownership.)
Stepping back from Stories
Perhaps we encased the original story in a frame gilded with resentment and righteous indignation. Matted it with I-was-done-wrong colors. I admit, some stories need to stay in that frame. There’s no other light to shed on them. However, as time passes, other stories need a more thoughtful construction.
With hindsight, the original framing starts to clash with the rest of your décor. The harsh rendering doesn’t go with the comfy couches and the welcoming quotes on the wall. (See why I like this metaphor?)
Maybe the relationship that brought you so much hurt prepared you to appreciate the right person when he or she came along. Perhaps you resolved to parent differently. Perhaps you learned handle confrontation in a more constructive way.
A Different Perspective
Taking a step back from stories can also help you see them from another point of view. You can do this by revisiting your writing or by discussing the past with loved ones. After all, that’s the point of legacy building, right? Sparking conversations. Cementing relationships.
I recently witnessed an altercation between a mother and daughter. The daughter, my friend, was ranting (with good cause) about something her sister had done. She continued her diatribe, hoping to hear her mother say that she was right. And that sister monstrously wrong. Of course, that didn’t happen.
My friend felt like her mother was stubbornly refusing to validate her feelings. Her hurt.
I saw something different. Because I was removed from the discussion, I was able to put the story into a different context. My friend was asking her mother not only to take sides, but to condemn one of two people on the planet that she loves most.
Writing with Hindsight
Think back over your stories. Are there any you’d like to take a step back from? Re-frame and re-tell? Append with your insights?
Have you learned from parallel stories in your past?
- Did one event prepare you for the next chapter in your life?
- Do the same patterns repeat themselves in your life?
Have you learned from watching someone else’s handling of events?
- Have you glimpsed resilience?
- Witnessed unconditional love or loyalty?
- Vowed not to do things the same way?
Like Sheena Monnin, have you figured out what was really going on?
- Do you now understand what motivated the other characters of your past?
- Did you figured out that you asked or expected too much?
- Were you too quick to play the victim?