Tell Another Story

NaBloPoMo 2021:  Do Good, Kid

What emotions and attitudes underlie the chronic and automatic narratives we harbor in our lives and relationships?  It’s a hard question, and well worth asking.  A couple days ago I wondered about stories I tell about someone after recurrent negative experiences with them.  But what about stories I tell about other people based solely on my own issues?  We each carry around a unique knapsack of biases, overt and occult.  They weigh and slow us down; they hinder our ability to connect with one another.  What relationships do we miss, damage, or destroy because of them, without even knowing?

So what about the driver who cuts you off in traffic?  Conventional wisdom tells us to imagine that they are having some kind of emergency; they are not a bad person.  I agree, we should not assume they are ‘bad.’  But let’s imagine there’s no emergency.  They drive without regard to others’ safety or traffic law every day.  So they’re rude, disrespectful, a menace—that’s another plausible, albeit still judgmental, story.  They’re not like us, we’re not like that.  So we are justified in our angry outburst at their insolence…  And now we’ve given away our peace for no benefit, and we have separated ourselves from another person, if only abstractly.

What do we imagine causes a person to behave—to live—without regard to others?  When have we behaved like that ourselves—maybe not behind the wheel, but in other situations?  What was driving us to do that?  Where is that our default pattern?  What self-justifying story do we tell about that?  Some would argue that when we knowingly harm others or put them at risk, it comes from our own places of pain.  We are wired to survive, and striking before being stricken works well for that.  We succumb to innate negativity bias, zeroing in on what could harm us and deflecting or destroying it, before appreciating what helps us, and then attracting and manifesting that.  The rude driver cuts us off, we call them a (jerk).  Everyone for themselves, check.

What if I tell the story that that person deserves more love and appreciation, more opportunity in life, than they are used to getting?  When I behave like that, don’t I have some unmet need that I’m advocating for, however subconsciously and ineptly?  What other, more fundamental question, helps us to ask when engaging with people who put us off at first?  When I tell a more empathetic and compassionate, or at least less judgmental story about others and myself, how does that affect my general outlook, and then my behavior, my relationships, and my overall satisfaction with life?

Envy.  Insecurity.  Hurt.  Disappointment.  Grief.  Disdain.  Pride.  Self-righteousness.  Loneliness.  Stories grounded in these emotions tell us about scarcity and competition, which may be real, and also incomplete plotlines.  If survival is all we can hope for, these stories may suffice.

Generosity.  Kindness.  Curiosity.  Humility.  Fairness.  Honesty.  Connection.  Love.  These themes paint a different story mural, one with more color and light, and much more depth and complexity.  Beyond survival, such stories hold the possibility for abundance, thriving, flourishing, and synergy. 

I’m not saying we should whitewash destructive behavior and waive responsibility for any harm we inflict on each other.  Accountability and compassion are not mutually exclusive.  I do think that we too easily throw each other and our connections away based on behaviors (or opinions, positions, and causes) that do not necessarily represent our whole selves.  We tell harsh, oversimplified stories based on sparse information and copious judgment.

Telling more stories is like choosing the wide angle rather than the zoom or macro lens.  It gives us an opportunity to see a bigger, more coherent, unified picture.  Exploring alternative explanations, beyond our automatic assumptions, enables crucially broader perspective.  Applying this practice regularly can help avert myriad conflicts based on miscommunication and misunderstanding, and clear the brambled paths between us.  It is yet another vital tool for connection and peace.

Spread Love

NaBloPoMo 2021:  Do Good, Kid

It’s not complicated

Just do nice things

Hold a door

Pick up something dropped

Give directions

Make eye contact and smile

Say hello

When someone does something nice

Thank them profusely

Because you feel it sincerely

So feel it sincerely

Please

When you think of your friend

Let them know

How much you care

What you love about them

How they make you feel good

Why the world is better

Because they are in it

When someone sees you

Especially your children

Make sure they see

In your face

Without question

How much you love them

And care for them

And want them to be happy

“If you have the power

“To make someone happy

“Do it

“The world needs more of that”

Decide When You Must

The lavender labyrinth at Cherry Point Farm and Market, Shelby, MI

NaBloPoMo 2021:  Do Good, Kid

“You don’t have to decide right now.”

These words usually cause me relief.  Maybe because I’m a procrastinator at heart?  And maybe because I just don’t like to be rushed into things, and for sure I do not like to be told what to do, no sir.  I will make up my mind when I am damn well good and ready, thank you very much.  Yes, that’s definitely part of it.  

But for many people, putting off decisions (or actions) incites anxiety, no?  Maybe you need a plan, and to feel secure that you know what will happen, where you’re heading?  I think this comes up a lot in medicine, when doctors and patients share decisions on plan of care.  Cancer screening and diagnostic testing protocols seem cookbook on the surface, but in order to make the best decisions for individuals in a large, complex system, we often need to think harder about what to do and when.

In the Knowledge Project podcast episode with Bill Ackman, he considers the utility of putting off decisions.  Just because you can make a decision now, does not mean you should.  Instead, assess and decide when you will need to make the decision.  The question to ask here, he says, is, “When will the risk picture change, and how?”  Basically, how much time from now until it’s do or die?  What factors should I monitor, and what are/will be my options now, compared to then?

What will we do with the information from any given diagnostic test? What are the possible/likely results, and how reliable will they be? Which results will answer our most important questions (what are those questions, anyway? What are our primary goals?), and which will provoke more questions, thus complicating the picture for no benefit? Screening and diagnostic tests are one way doors—once done, they cannot be undone. The information revealed, reliable or not, actionable or not, is now forever discoverable and requiring explanation. Many a wild goose chase are instigated based on benign, irrelevant, incidental findings from unwarranted and excess testing (my opinion). My minimalist bias stems from a deep aversion to wasting resources—time, energy, and access as importantly as dollars. In our quest for certainty, sometimes we get exactly the opposite.

That said, the suites of risk that matter most to you, me, or anyone else are both unique and overlapping, no?  Their weight and prioritization evolve in constant fluidity over time, and non-linearly, which I think we don’t attend to enough.  At the end of many elderly folks’ lives, they prioritize independence and quality of daily life now.  But their loved ones may prioritize safety now and longevity later.  Grandma may be willing to sacrifice months or years lived for staying in her house, and she might also change her mind multiple times before the actual end of life.  She may have a very different framework for deciding when/what/how to do things, compared to Son and Daughter-in-law.  You may be completely willing to risk finding colon cancer at a later, less treat/curable stage, because the intrinsic costs of the prep, sedation, or whatever else about the test are just that high for you.  Or you may be willing to have multiple breast biopsies, risking pain, bleeding, infection, scarring, and increasing likelihood of future abnormal mammogram findings, just so you can be assured every year that you do not have breast cancer now. 

As loving family members and conscientious healthcare teams, we must always negotiate for optimal outcomes, subjective as well as objective.  May we all approach ourselves and one another in respect, peace, love, and mutual support, and hold space when and where appropriate.