November 3

It’s Just a Story

November 3, 2014

Personal Growth

As Brenda and Josh were eating dinner with Donna and me, one of the subjects discussed was the quality of screenplays in television and cinema. I was asked whether I knew any examples of good writers and their work. I named a few, one of them being Aaron Sorkin, creator of “The West Wing,” a television series.

“Oh, I love that show,” Brenda said. “Do you know that Josh has never seen it?”

Immediately Josh—obviously offended—began to protest that he HAD seen it.

“But you told me you hadn't,” Brenda said.

An argument continued, which finally clarified that Josh had seen some of the episodes, but nowhere near all of the seven seasons familiar to Brenda.

“I meant that you hadn't seen ALL of it,” Brenda said.

By the time all the facts had been settled, Brenda had been condescending, Josh had been defensive and attacking, and their relationship had been significantly wounded.

Nearly every day I see this kind of conversation nearly every day. We have a strong tendency to correct the details of the stories or comments offered by other people. Almost never are these details important, but correcting them causes great emotional harm. People don’t like to be corrected, because they hear that they can’t tell a story right, that they’ve made a mistake, that they don’t know anything, and—the inevitable conclusion—that they’re just not sufficiently valued or worthwhile to speak without supervision.

On the whole I suggest to people that unless another person is making a mistake in speaking that would lead to arterial bleeding or the detonation of a bomb, we need simply to shut up. Our being quiet deprives no one of critical information, and it conveys an acceptance and support of the person speaking.

One day a friend, Samantha, was telling a story that involved me, and in the process I was made to look a bit ridiculous. I laughed along with everyone else, but later a member of the group took me aside and said, “I seem to remember that event, and it didn't quite happen like Samantha said. You didn't use the words that Samantha said, did you?”

“No,” I said, “I didn't.”

“So why didn't you correct her?”

“Wasn't important, and it was HER story to tell. And did you see the look on her face? She really enjoyed telling it, and it wasn't meant to hurt me.”

We need to let people have their own stories. Rarely are their mistakes worth correcting. As we learn to keep quiet, we find an inner peace that comes from confidence in who we really are, and the people around us deeply appreciate our acceptance of them.

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