“We’re so complex; we’re mysteries to ourselves; we’re difficult to each other. And then storytelling reminds us we’re all the same.” Brad Pitt.
Understanding – is that how to tell our truth?
The Ironic Truth
You know those moments when someone tells you something deeply personal, particularly heart braking and overtly confronting about their past, where you are left, with a feeling of being powerless to respond, so you say… I am sorry. I’m sorry that happened to you, I’m sorry you went through that, I’m sorry.
Sometimes this can be a considered reply, and the right reply for the moment, however, much of the time it is a stop gap, of sorts, a way to bridge over your real, internal (usually uncomfortable) reaction to the information being presented. Maybe with good intention, say, to not offend, or not upset or isolate someone you care about through your reaction. What’s interesting and paradoxical about this situation, is that the apology should probably come from the person telling the story.
Let me explain.
As the person telling the story, the one telling the truth of your life, of your circumstance, of your heartbreak or pain, take a moment now to think about how much time you have had to consider this truth. Not only the actual instance that caused it, but also how much time you have had to consider, process and get comfortable with other peoples reactions to it. In fact, it’s not new. By the time you say it, even for the first time, you have probably thought deeply, openly and at length about how you will feel if some one doesn’t understand, how you would react if someone does, and all of the potential in betweens.
On the other hand, you have the person listening, for the first time. They have never been confronted by this exact piece of information before. They don’t understand your relationship to the trauma of it and they don’t really understand their own. Even if in the moment they get the feeling that it impacts or activates their own internal daemons, they don’t really know how, why or what to do with that just yet. What I am proposing is, that this moment, right here, requires deep empathy from the story teller.
Being a better story teller is something I would like to be in my life, and thinking about the audience in this way, makes me consider how I can use understanding within that. How by framing, preempting understanding and personalising your narrative opens hearts and ears, so instead of shutting down an experience with an I’m sorry, you leave your audience, loved one, friend or stranger open to a conversation. Invite them to become a participant in the evolution of the story itself. Creating an exchange that is both deeply meaningful and truly honest. Which is, in essence, connection.
Is it that being understood starts with being understanding?