The Stories We Tell Ourselves (Part I)

Part I – Worldview

On Tuesday, I found myself with some unanticipated time off from work, having misjudged the amount of time it might require for me to cast my vote in this (abnormal) year’s election.

Living in Washington DC for the first time during a presidential election, I found myself using my time to wander the streets of downtown DC, eventually finding my way to a black fence-lined street. H Street.

Beyond the fallen autumn leaves and the stretch of Lafayette Square stood yet another black fence. Then a lawn. Then the faint outline of the White House.

All around me, I observed at least a hundred individuals immersed in their own narratives. Sharing a piece of their beliefs with the world–some loudly, some softly, most non-confrontationally.

A man off to the side playing an acoustic guitar and softly singing Bob Dylan covers.

A woman in a hot pink pant suit taking videos of the countless poster board messages posted all along the black fence.

A man sitting next to his large speaker, loudly playing a recording of a man reciting Bible verses.

A group of middle aged women dancing to uplifting music, twirling colorful flags while one sings passionately into a microphone.

A brief, yet confrontational shouting match between two men, each holding their signs up high.

I could go on and on.

I’m not setting up this scene to delve into any political commentary on the 2020 US Presidential Election. I’m sure we’ve all heard plenty on that, regardless of where you stand.

What struck me as I stood there in that moment, sun shining on my skin, was how all these people were in the process of sharing a piece of themselves–whether a message to the world in hopes that someone would hear, or simply expressing themselves for their own purpose.

A piece of their own story. Of their world view.

We all have this unquenchable need to make sense of the world around us.

Of the madness, the wonder, the chaos, the amazement of the world.

The uncertainty drives us mad — we need answers. Explanations. Something to settle the otherwise constant unrest within us of our transient existence. Something to tell us that what we do day to day is worth the struggle. Worth the pain. Worth the stress, anxiety, uncertainty, fear, even the mundane or boring moments.

Perhaps the biggest need of all is to make sense of ourselves and one another–of our nature as humans.

But rather than find truths, concrete answers or explanations, we’re left with so many grey areas. Complexities within ourselves and our world that we can’t make sense of. It drives us to develop what I like to think of as coping mechanisms in a complex world that is anything but black and white.

I realize that the term ‘coping mechanism’ makes it sound like life is all one big stressful, traumatic event. I don’t mean to say that it is–although it definitely has its moments– but rather that it’s complex, and becoming increasingly so. That it will always consist of unknowns and factors outside of our control.

Some coping mechanisms are more positive and benign than others. But they can still be seen as a way to make sense of the world and feel in control of something.

And at the root of it, our coping mechanisms are often what give us something to believe in. They come to form the basis of our beliefs. They often become the stories we tell ourselves about life and who we are.

I believe music has the power to heal.

I believe I will gain a greater understanding of the world if I pay attention to and document the experiences of others here in my city, shared through what they wrote and left on these poster boards. I believe in showing my support and solidarity.

I believe in religion — in the power and love of Jesus.

I believe that a public display of love and positivity is what the world needs. Maybe our song and dance will help even just a few people believe in the power of our shared humanity. In our ability to show up for one another.

I believe that if I’m right, you must be wrong. I’ll argue endlessly to prove that point.

Our coping mechanisms give us an action. A concrete step to take that is within our power to do or say or argue or share with the world at the times when we feel most uncertain.

I learned for myself on Tuesday that for me it was the power of observation that made me feel connected with my community and with the world.

I’m learning as I write this, that it’s also my ability to ‘make sense of things’ through writing.

Coping mechanisms provide comfort.

But ultimately, they feed the stories we tell ourselves about our world and our identities. Over time, the more we rely on our coping mechanisms, the more we come to accept them as truths.

Truths about the world and about ourselves.

Truths that feel solid and real.

Truths about others.

We cling to the stories we tell ourselves and they shape the say we see and interact with the world.

And as a result, we all have different ways of seeing the world. Different coping mechanisms. Different stories we tell ourselves. Different truths.

The more we tell them the more we believe our truths to be the truth. The more we can come to not understand how someone could possibly not agree?

At what point do we begin to acknowledge others are telling themselves stories different from our own?

At what point do we decide we need to change the stories we’ve been telling ourselves?

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