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  • Writer's pictureJill Brocklehurst

Story Telling

It has been written that the Truth shall make us free, provided we know the Truth…"

~ Ernest Holmes

Lately, my favourite group exercise is something I call, ‘Fact versus Story’. One by one, participants take turns looking at the person beside them, naming something they see as a fact about that person, and then telling the story they make up about this fact. (For example: “You have tattoos. The story I tell myself is that you are a creative, liberal person.”)

The reason we practice this skill is that ‘stories’ can quickly get out of hand, and they aren’t necessarily true. (In fact, they are hardly ever true). I might expand my story to include, “Liberal people are self-centred, and creative people are airheads. I already don’t like you.”

Dr. Brené Brown, through her book, Dare to Lead, teaches this: “When it comes to our emotions, the first stories we make up are definitely our fears and insecurities romping all over the place, making up worst-case scenarios.”

In another book, The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership, by Jim Dethmer, Diana Chapman, and Kaley Klemp, such behaviour is explained as “below the line thinking”. This is a perspective that comes from a place where life is ‘happening TO us’… where we are reactive, defensive, and recycling drama. The idea is that, typically, we all tend to spend most of each day in a “drama triangle”, which we create through telling and retelling ourselves (and others) the stories we make up. This, then, drives our behaviour and acts as the foundation of all our experiences.

It’s good to let our stories out. It can be even better to consciously get really dramatic with them, in a safe environment, where we can more easily witness their absurdity.

The author, Margaret Atwood, wrote: “When you are in the middle of a story, it isn’t a story at all, but only a confusion; a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood; like a house in a whirlwind, or else a boat crushed by the icebergs or swept over the rapids, and all aboard are powerless to stop it. It’s only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story at all.”

Finding anyone who is willing to listen to our ‘stories’, and then to lovingly reflect back a possible alternative, is the greatest gift.

There is a great example of how stories create division and drama in another book I am enjoying this summer, called Kafka on the Shore, by Haruki Murakami. I have copied a portion of it here, to amplify my point:

Two women have come into a very small library, complaining about the lack of attendance to the equality of men and women in the branch (this is their story). The discussion with the librarian goes something like this…

Women: “Well, first of all, you have no restroom set aside for women. Even if you are a private facility, since you’re open to the public don’t you think—in principle—that you should provide separate restrooms for men and women? Shared facilities give rise to all sorts of harassment. According to our survey, the majority of women are reluctant to use shared bathrooms. This is a clear case of neglect of your female patrons.

Librarian: “As you can see, we’re a very small library. Unfortunately, we don’t have the space for separate restrooms. Naturally, it would be better to have separate facilities, but none of our patrons have ever complained. For better or for worse, our library doesn’t get very crowded. If you’d like to pursue this issue of separate restrooms further, I suggest you go to the Boeing headquarters in Seattle and address the issue of restrooms on 747s. A 747 is much bigger than our little library, and much more crowded. As far as I’m aware, all restrooms on passenger jets are shared by men and women.

Women: “You’re a typical, sexist, patriarchal male. You’re employing the status quo, and the cheap phallocentric logic that supports it, to reduce the entire female gender to second-class citizens in order to limit and deprive women of the rights they’re due. You’re doing this unconsciously rather than deliberately, but that makes you even guiltier. You protect vested male interests and become inured to the pain of others, and don’t even try to see what evil your blindness causes women and society. I realize that problems with restrooms are mere details, but if we don’t begin with the small things we’ll never be able to throw off the cloak of blindness that covers our society. Those are the principles by which we act.”

Librarian: “First of all, I’m not a male. I’m a woman. However, while my body is physically female, my mind is completely male. Emotionally, I live as a man. So I suppose your notion of being a historical example may be correct. And maybe I am sexist…who knows? But I’m not a lesbian, even though I dress this way. My sexual preference is for men. In other words, I’m a female, but I’m gay. I do anal sex, and I have never used my vagina for sex. My clitoris is sensitive but my breasts aren’t. I don’t have a period. So, what am I discriminating against? Could somebody tell me?”

Flustered, the women and their stories left.

I have a desire to be the best version of me. This requires that I get real with myself, and clear about the ‘facts’ and the ‘stories’ in my life. This means pulling out the 15 Commitments tools over and over again, re-listening to Dare to Lead, and practicing their exercises so that I can live from my authenticity.

What would the world be like if we were all doing this? How much safer would we all feel if we could catch ourselves in the ‘drama triangle’ and stop blaming, running and hiding, or protecting? What would it be like if we were honest and real about our feelings and experiences, taking 100% responsibility for ourselves all the time, not beating ourselves up, and instead, loving ourselves in the deepest way possible, through self-honouring behaviours?

Honestly, I believe this kind of work, and the candour that goes along with it, is the ticket… the path to a new world… a journey through life that works for everyone. Candour is not callous, it is generous and kind. I know that some of the stories I tell myself are truly messed up. But, knowing that I am the author of my life, I can pick up the pen and start writing the story differently, in order to experience the kind of life I know is possible.

At my core, I believe I am a pioneer, clearing a path to joy. If there is something new to try, I am the first to demonstrate its validity. I am driven by a vision of a world that is a happier place for everyone, together. This doesn’t mean we are all the same, reacting and behaving in one methodology. NO! Instead, I believe that when we are truly authentic and clear about the difference between ‘facts’ and ‘stories’, we create space for the infinite number of ways we can live in harmony and peace. I know I am a work in progress, always.

To conclude, here is more wisdom from Brené Brown: “Revolution might sound a little dramatic, but in this world, choosing authenticity and worthiness is an absolute act of resistance. Choosing to live and love with our whole hearts is an act of defiance. You’re going to confuse, piss off, and terrify lots of people—including yourself. One minute you’ll pray that the transformation stops, and the next minute you’ll pray that it never ends. You’ll also wonder how you can feel so brave and so afraid at the same time. At least that’s how I feel most of the time…brave, afraid, and very, very alive.”


~ Have a go at playing the game “Fact verses Story” with family or friends. Make it fun and light.

(Remember, a ‘fact’ is unarguable, absolutely. If there is any discrepancy possible, then it is not a fact, it is a ‘story’. Most people, when they first play, find this exercise difficult. We have built habits out of believing our stories are facts).

~ Make a list of the facts that matter to you in your life.

~ Make a second list of the stories you tell yourself that you know aren’t true.

~ Make a third list of the new stories you would like tell, that will create a new foundation for the rest of your life.

~ Most of all, I’ll reiterate… have fun and be light with this practice. Know you are not alone. Everyone is telling stories. EVERYONE!!

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