When I was six, my family was driving on a highway late at night. Streaks of headlights and taillights painted the dark. For the first time, I realized that each car held people living lives as important to them as mine was to me.
I wanted to know what those lives were, and to share my own.
Last night, my Accomplice and I had an argument. We don’t argue often, anymore – after eighteen years, and a few doozies, we’ve learned to be better at this communication thing, and how to disagree – even passionately – in a more productive manner.
But, every so often, the conditions are favorable for an emotional storm – and last night was prime time for nasty weather…
It wasn’t a horrific argument, as such things go. Voices were raised; a few hours’ sleep was lost in the hashing out, tears were shed, feelings were expressed –
And stories came to light as peace was restored.
Have you ever noticed how often stories play a role in misunderstandings?
In this case, it was a very old story about a boy whose mom forgot him at school a few too many times, who became a man who resents the times when he needs to wait for a ride because we’re sharing a car, and about a hefty chunk of money sunk into a car that’s still sitting on ramps in the driveway, awaiting a part that needs to be shipped to a local dealer. It was about being grown up, working hard – and still helpless.
It was also worry about the money spent, and a thought that expenditures might exceed means, which was exacerbated by the birthday of a girl still young enough to want magic on her special day.
For me, there were stories about having freely shared my car for over a week, and expecting an unrealistic degree of appreciation for the fact from someone who was mainly using it for errands and to earn our sole income, and other stories about what an eleven year old person should be able to enjoy, on her birthday – and about a child who will never celebrate his birthday, and how sometimes my heart’s torn apart for wishing it could be different.
Our stories and perceptions of reality collided.
Neither of us was wrong, to feel as we felt. Maybe not even to have these stories in our heads.
But inflicting them upon one another as though we share the same stories, all the time? As though what we thought and felt weren’t stories, at all…
That’s where we went wrong.
As soon as we gave our stories power, we made them true, in our own minds – and didn’t analyze whether they were true in fact.
Recently, there’s been a lot of talk about the Confederate battle flag, and about the rainbow WordPress put on its user interface dashboard the day the U.S. Supreme Court decreed banning same-sex marriages unconstitutional.
That flag, which was flown as a symbol of something that denied many people human rights, is offensive to many, and a matter of pride to others. Whether it’s a wise or sensitive idea to fly it on government buildings, or for states to incorporate it into their flags, is, for many, a matter of the stories they tell themselves, and believe.
But will banning the Stars and Bars, refusing to sell anything bearing the symbol, or painting the roof of the General Lee do anything to change the opinions of those who truly believe that there is a superior race? Will it undo any of the pain caused in the name of such attitudes and beliefs, new or old?
Or is that another story we tell ourselves, because facing the enormity of hatred is too daunting, too frightening?
And that WordPress banner?
I’ve read some very pointed comments on it. WordPress is based in America, but has global business; the decision of SCOTUS don’t carry as much weight beyond American borders. Many countries have had national marriage equality for years. Some of the people who live there were offended; some spent considerable time, energy, and thought expressing their stories. Some don’t agree with the decision; others don’t object to the ruling, only being forced to see the rainbow banner.
I saw the banner on my own dashboard – and, at first, I didn’t understand it, even though I’d just heard the decision.
Nowhere on that page did it say WHY there was a rainbow. It simply appeared.
Why does that matter?
Because those spending so much energy telling the story of why they found the banner so offensive might have chosen to tell themselves a different, less personally objectionable story about why it was there.
- Well, how about Unicorn Poo? My children inform me that unicorns poop rainbows.
- Or a celebration of color, a search for a pot of gold…
- Or a demonstration of what a prism does to light…
- The colors of the Ajahs of the Aes Sedai (OK, that one’s a bit more obscure, but Wheel of Time fans might love it).
Those stories are silly – but I’ve never heard anyone get up in arms about unicorns or prisms. For those offended by the idea that the rainbow was in support of something they either don’t support, or don’t want forced upon them, a little fantasy might have brought a sense of fun, and an ability to accept what WordPress didn’t change until it was ready, no matter how much angst there was.
The stories we tell ourselves, and how much weight we give to them, can affect us profoundly…but we can choose to put down the book, if it’s not for us, and find something happier to read…
So, what’s your story? Is it happy, or fraught with tension? How about a relaxing beverage, while you share?