In the spirit of the holiday season, Dee and I went to a liquor store to purchase a gift of wine for a friend. There we asked the store owner, a congenial fellow named Ali, for some recommendations. We were pleasantly surprised to find that Ali is a world-class wine expert. He went into fascinating, poetic details about each wine, describing its subtlest nuances and mesmerizing us with stories about the history of each winery, some of which went back over a thousand years. I was rapt.
Finally I commented, “I guess all wines have a story.”
Ali smiled and shook his head. “Not exactly,” he replied. “All good wines have a story.”
His comment got me thinking about the stories we tell. Some stories are worth telling and others are not worth telling. Some stories empower us and others disempower us. Which of your stories bring you life and which deaden you?
The end of this year might be a good time to decide which stories you want to leave behind and which you would like to take into the new year and amplify. One of the most powerful exercises I have ever done in a seminar was to ask the participants, “What story are you ready to let go of, and what story are you willing to have take its place?” The answers were quite revealing: Participants declared they were ready to let go of their victim and abuse stories; poverty, lack and struggle; loveless relationships; fear, resistance and many variations on “poor me.” In their stead they were ready to tell new stories of living with conscious intention; relationships that yield reward and joy; abundance and success; trust, flow and creativity; and “blessed me.”
Every time you tell a story, you reinforce the feelings and experience associated with the story; you amplify the themes in your consciousness; and you increase the chances of a similar story repeating itself in your world. That is quite enough reason to carefully choose the stories you tell.
If you find yourself telling a story that is taking you to a place you would rather not revisit, stop and consider what story might effectively replace it. I patronize a video store that has a computer program that alerts the clerk if I am about to check out a video I have already rented. The clerk asks me, “Are you aware that you’ve already watched this video?” If it was a good video and I want to see it again, I proceed with the checkout. If I remember that I didn’t really like the movie, I send it back to the shelf and pick out another one.
How helpful would it be if you and I had a little computer program in our head that reminded us, “You have already told this story. Are you sure you want to tell it again?”
Many of us keep telling non-productive stories because we get perceived mileage out of them. They do not bring us reward, but they are familiar and we build a presentation and identity around them. One of the movies I have checked out several times is The Heartbreak Kid (1972 version with Charles Grodin). In the film, Lenny has a canned spiel he gives most people to impress them. “I think it’s time we quit taking from the earth and we started giving back to it.” A good idea, for sure, but for Lenny it is purely hot air.
Over the course of his journey, Lenny impresses a number of folks with his rap, to the point that he manipulates to marry the girl he has been pursuing. In the final scene of the film we see Lenny at his wedding reception, sitting on a couch with a couple of 8-year-old kids. “I think it’s time we quit taking from the earth and we started giving back to it,” he tells them. The kids simply roll their eyes, get up, and walk away. Like many children, they live too close to truth to be impressed by a hollow story.
Holiday gatherings offer great opportunities to be at choice about the stories you tell and listen to. What a wonderful season this will be if you use it to tell a new story! You can turn around lifetime patterns of negative conversation by pointing your story in a new direction. You may discover that no one is too old or too stuck to get a new story. Bill, a carpenter who works at my house from time to time, is a straight-arrow kind of guy. A military retiree, Bill is a devoted family man and conservative in many ways.
Last week Bill told me that, due to a health crisis, his wife picked up a book on spiritual healing. She got really excited about it, and so did Bill. As we stood in my back yard, Bill went into a long discourse about how spiritual healing works. Although I have understood (and taught) these principles over many years, I listened fervently, absolutely impressed by the new life Bill had discovered. He got a new and better story, and he is loving it!
Rather than wishing you a traditional holiday greeting, I wish you a good story. I wish that the most wonderful aspects of your current story expand, and if you have any painful or empty stories, that you find new ones to launch you into a new year. May your new year place you smack dab in the middle of the greatest story you have ever told.