Essays : How you arrange the plot points of your life into narrative shapes who you are
By Brent M. Jones
“How you arrange the plot points of your life into narrative shapes who you are and is a fundamental part of being human.” This is the subtitle in an article titled “Life Stories” published in the Atlantic Magazine in 2015.
In that interesting article, Monisha Pasupathi, a professor of developmental psychology at the University of Utah, offered a lot of insight on this subject. She stated, “In order to have relationships, we’ve all had to tell little pieces of our story.”
We share our life stores every day. In just our greetings with others, here are some examples of that: "Hi, where are you from?" "Where did you grow up?" "Which school did you attend?"
Recently I watched a sales woman standing at the entrance door of a store in a local mall. She made eye contact and smiled as people passed by. A lady customer passing, smiled and said hello back to this friendly sales woman and the two of them walked into the store together. I was nearby and overheard what happened next. The sales woman asked how the potential customer was doing and got a smile and a reply. As they went into the store the sales women asked where the lady was from. She mentioned a town in California. The sales women person replied with some enthusiasm as she knew the town well. They talked about the street where it turned out they had both spent time. The sales women person had plenty of personal experiences in this town to talk about and share. Both women relaxed and enjoyed getting to know and talking with each other. It was clear they both had made a connection by sharing part of their life story about this town they both knew.
We see our own lives as a series of events, we connect the events with narrative that then becomes a story, our story. The resulting story, that we to a large degree have constructed, has a great deal to do with our self-identity.
In the last 20 plus years I had an opportunity to tell my own life story in front of a church group at least twenty times. Each time I shared my story it was always a little different as I added or withheld certain details or events. It was different because I thought more about the story and it became different with the time that had passed. Yes, I was recalling it differently because I would reflect back on events and see them differently.
In that same time frame, I heard few hundred men present their life story and then often heard them tell their story again after a few years. As with my sharing, the emphasis and substance of their stories changed as they told them.
Life stories are like books. They have plots, themes, time lines and characters. We choose which of these are important and we connect the events to be able to present them in a narrative.
Thinking about thoughts which influence and shape our self-identity shows some answers in why we see it differently over time.
People come and go in our lives, but some become significant and important key characters in our story plot as events occur. Events shape us. How we choose to look at those events changes, and this happens as we look back filtering all we have been through with our memories.
Books and authors influence us. Art, music, poetry, literature, service, our heritage and even food can influence us even to the point of being part of the life story.
A poem by an unknown author suggests that, "Some people come into our lives for a reason, some for a season, and some for a lifetime.” Some feel God sends the people that are needed. Others who may come bring challenges and darkness.
I believe we have a choice in putting together the narrative of who we are, and who we become- We can pick which of the events we connect with, what we conclude about them, and then weave and reweave them into our story.
We can see our past change, as we look back, finding that our perspective makes a great deal of difference, or we can take a more deterministic view believing that people are wired to be what they are. This view says that since we didn't choose our parents, or the time or place where we were born, or our genes that we are programmed by cause and effect resulting in our current circumstances.
Tell your story to your family and listen to how you see things this year, and then again in a year.