Without lying, I could easily make my narrative that I am:
- an innocent angel
- a cruel person
- quite a genius
- quite stupid
…and everything in between. How is this possible? Well, it has to do with which datum points I choose.
Let’s say that I am asked to pick out ten events that have been significant in my life, that will describe my life narrative. Surely over these 50 years of mine, I can for example find ten events “proving” that I am more or less a saint! Or, quite the opposite, that I cannot be trusted at all. This has a couple of implications, that I would like us to take a closer look at together in this article.
I choose my life narrative
When thinking of my life, whether I make the hardship or the blessings significant makes a huge difference. We’ve all had hardship, make no mistake. Between absent parents, bullying at school, being dumped by boy- or girlfriends. And numerous different types of insults and assaults, everyone has had enough hardship to write a story about it. I am not suggesting that everyone has an equal amount, I am just saying that we have all had enough of it to be defined by it – if we choose to.
And at the same time, since we are alive in the first place, there is an uncountable amount of blessing in our life. Which is more than enough to be defined by if we choose that narrative.
I had a conversation with a person who is very dear to me not long ago and she responded: “But surely one has the right to feel resentful when awful things have happened! When people have let you down, you have the right to be cross.” And this is true, it is your right to feel resentful and done in. But it will only make you feel bad; it is like drinking poison. Mind you, it is also your right to bang your head into the wall, but that too will hurt!
The two narratives
With Transactional Correctness, we learn to come from a place of gratitude. This means seeing that we have been given over our due. Thus defining our life story based on the blessings in our life. That is what makes us feel good in our own skin. Using that “right to feel resentful”, feeling done in and defining our life narrative based on the hardship in our life will make us bitter and leave us feeling like victims.
Apart from making you feel bad in your own skin, the problem with victimhood is that it will make you unable to act with generosity and courage. You just cannot. What you do may look like generosity on the surface, but if it doesn’t stem from gratitude the intent will actually be an investment. Coming from resentment and victimhood, you will give to get something back. To be able to give unconditionally, you must believe in unconditionality.
For example, It’s a generous thing to do to give a child a bar of chocolate, is it not? Well, it certainly can be. That is if your intent simply is to give the child a bar of chocolate, for the child to have a nice piece of chocolate. But in this situation, the adult in question gave the child a bar of chocolate, for the child to like him. Can you see? The adult acted to be liked. So it was not unconditional and therefore not generosity. It was an investment. (And by the way, it didn’t work. To this day, she still doesn’t like him.)
Back to the narrative of our lives – how does the chocolate story fit in there? Well, the adult in the example did not trust that they would like him with or without chocolate. Because his life narrative was built on resentment, rather than gratitude.
My judgement of others
Looking at the concept of choosing to define our own life narratives, what does this mean for how we see others? The basics are the same. For any human being, it is possible to pick out datum points to show that they are anything from angels to children of the devil. To see it in ourselves helps us see each other with less judgment and be less quick to condemn people.
Recently I have thought quite a bit about my earlier marriage. It used to feel quite easy for me to see what had gone wrong. But having put some more thought into the matters above, I can see it is more complex than that. It all depends on which data points you pick out. It could easily show at least a dozen different stories about what went wrong! And they are probably all correct, from their own viewpoint!
Realising this made me more cautious about judging others. Not only are there at least a dozen different ways to view something that has happened, but we also don’t know each other’s life narratives.
Again, I’d like to clarify something: I’m not suggesting any type of behaviour is acceptable due to this. Some behaviours are hurtful and need to be avoided, no question about it. But speaking in more general terms, like in the example of a marriage that has ended unhappily, it is useful to remember that we often don’t know enough about each other (or ourselves) to be able to walk in the other person’s shoes and understand their narrative.
For others, and ourselves, I find it is wise to carry judgement very lightly. I’m not there yet, but I’m working on it.
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Anna is the Regional Custodian of Europe Regions for the Schuitema Group.
She has had a long and rewarding career with Swedish telecommunications firm Ericsson, holding line management as well as senior change leadership positions.
Subsequently she was part of leading a large scale Agile and Lean transformation which made it possible for her to become a senior Agile and Lean coach in Sweden.
Her work, that seeks to combine Agile ways of work with Care & Growth, opens up a new, excellent way of working with teams, leadership and culture.