The stories we share with one another are important. They provide context and history. They connect us with the past and the people around us. They offer insight. They transfer wisdom. And they provide inspiration.
The stories we choose to share as individuals and as a society are important to our development.
But equally important are the stories we choose not to tell. The stories we choose to withhold from others (and ourselves) are incredibly significant.
I have been struck recently by the imagery of stories purposefully being withheld. I think there is a lesson to be learned from them.
Consider the negative effects of how not sharing a story has become prominent in the news:
The Commissioner of the NFL, America’s most beloved sport, has been under harsh criticism recently for allegedly withholding a story of domestic abuse (or at the very least, choosing not to pursue the story fully).
Similarly, in recent years, Joe Paterno, the beloved football coach, was forced to resign over a story that he refused to tell proper authorities.
Outside the world of athletics, some are wondering if public health officials are withholding too much information about the recent outbreak of Ebola: What We’re Afraid to Say About Ebola
In each case, the decision to not pursue or share a specific story has proven (or may prove) to be damaging to the people involved and society as a whole.
There is a danger in withholding stories that ought to be told. (tweet that)
Bobette Buster said it like this, “The fact is, history has shown us that stories not told can become like an evil genie left in a bottle. When they are finally uncorked, their power to destroy is unleashed.”
But this is not a post about news reports, Public Health Organizations, or Athletic Associations. This is a post about the lives we live and the decisions we make with it.
And unfortunately, too often, we withhold stories from our own lives that could benefit others. The stories are not pretty. Otherwise, we would have already told them. But they have a place in our society and in our conversations with the people closest to us.
There are a number of reasons we hide parts of our story: they often reveal our weaknesses or expose our flaws; they require courage and strength to share; and of course, there are some stories that quite frankly should be kept private—especially those that embarrass someone else.
But as individuals and as a society, we have become too well-versed in withholding stories.
Most of us have two selves: the one we portray on the outside and the one we actually are on the inside. And the better we get at hiding the stories that reveal our true selves, the more damage we may be causing (to ourselves and to others).
Honesty and openness is important:
It proves we are trustworthy. Our human experience testifies that nobody is perfect. And those who seek to portray themselves as such are usually met with a suspicious eye.
It displays we are human. By admitting our weakness, we encourage others that our life is reproducible. We are not perfect or better. We have succeeded despite our weakness, and so can they.
It highlights the importance of hard work and personal development. Each of us start and live every day of our lives with flaws to overcome. Hard work may not allow us to overcome them completely. But it can demonstrate we do not have to be defined by our mistakes.
It allows others to know us (and themselves) better. The greatest desire of every human being is to be fully known and fully accepted. This is love. It is the call of our hearts. Vulnerability allows others to know us with a deeper intimacy—and show even greater love in the process.
It challenges others to share their stories. Vulnerability leads to vulnerability. Admitting weakness and sharing our difficult stories is an incredibly freeing act. It removes burden and weight from our shoulders. And it provides others the freedom and strength to share theirs.
Does this mean we admit every weakness, every flaw, and every secret regret to everybody we meet? No, of course not. There is a time and a place and a certain level of relationship necessary for some stories to be told in an appropriate manner.
But our world would be a better place if we decided to stop hiding our stories from one another.
Jay Cee says
Very thought provoking. I come from a family who has kept “secrets”. I don’t remember being told not to tell certain things but it seems all my family members do it. I am sure they think they are protecting someone (themselves or someone else) but I have found that some “secrets” should be told at some point in time. I understand why some were not told due to the time, there were consequences of letting out the secret. But once that time had passed, I think the secret should have been revealed. I have an older brother who still wants to keep secrets about his past from his children. I understand those things still cause him emotional pain. So I feel like I am supposed to keep his secrets too. He basically told me so. Secrets are always found out, in my opinion (and in my case). Maybe I am too much of a “detective” that I learn the secrets. But none of those secrets made me respect my family members any less. I understand their emotional pain but still feel the secrets should have been revealed (to family) at some point.
Kathy @ SMART Living 365.com says
Hi Joshua. I completely agree that we all have a story of our selves and that how we tell it and what we “choose” to remember defines us and our lives.
However, one thing I’ve learned as I’ve grown older is that the greatest peace of mind comes when I melt the outside version of myself with the inside version of myself. In fact, I would go so far to say that most of the unhappiness and challenge people face is believing that those two aspects of ourselves can be kept separate anyway. Being congruent, authentic and real to first ourselves and then others is a critical element of “becoming” whole. ~Kathy
This curiosity popped in my consciousness about ten years after my mother passed, and I was unpacking boxes I had moved (again). I picked up a yellowed copy of the obituary someone had written for the newspaper. For the first time I read it and noted that it said she was born in Walt Hill, NB and stopped me cold.
NEVER had we ever talked about her birthplace and I wondered why we never had that conversation. I obviously had many questions and reality struck and said, “Look, Silly, anyone who knows the answers is also gone.”
I felt robbed, curious and a range of feelings I’d never encountered. They ranged from what was my grandmother doing there? How did she get there/return? Why would she have travelled so far from the only area I knew in rural Illinois?
The questions continued until I realized others may have a similar situation and assuming that God had handed me the project of saving the world from similar questions. I spoke to two friends via internet and posed the question if this had merit and value and they enthusiastically on this campaign to save the world.
I began to look on the web and was soon humbled by that time – some fifteen years ago – that there were already 400 registered groups and had it well in hand :-)
From there I joined a couple and gained a lot of organizational tips and a wealth of info to help me slide it to it without reinventing the wheel.
What I appreciated in all the posts is that there are many viewpoints of why we find that book tugging at us – and won’t let us forget it.
I’ve two tips to insert.
1) Yes we may have had a rough childhood and we are itching to ‘get even’ with a tell-all. You can write that draft but circumstances may change and wish you’d not been so vocal – try to stick with what you learned as a result of a bad situation and for god’s sake don’t identify the real life person’s name. You might come to regret having done that.
2) DO write bits and pieces of your life and the meaningful, fun, sad, awkward and don’t feel you have to filet yourself and spread all the blood on your page.
3) I do well with individual sketches and write quickly – tell the censor sitting on your shoulder to go away and drink vinegar – you’ll likely have several drafts of your thoughts – THEN EDIT and edit again.
4) There are many helpful supportive groups online. Hopefully you won’t get Nit Picky Patty. I often thank her for her unsolicited advice and border on changing my email address. Take care of your self when you opening up about sensitive issues.
It was great reading the comments and seeing how everyone responded. I know it will be memorable. :-)
Island Mom says
As my 40th birthday approached, the realization grew that I was presenting myself differently to my various social groups. There had developed a different persona for family, childhood friends, work friends, social friends, church friends, etc… I was anxious to overcome it, so I invited my closest friends from each group on a joint weekend to celebrate my birthday. It was a big success. They all met and, of course, some clicked and some did not; however, I had to be myself to all of them. I overcame a sense of “hiding” certain friends from others. I know it sounds strange, but it worked. Since then I have relaxed a lot, counting on my friends to love me for who I am. Your posts are wonderful. I read them almost every day. I am striving to simplify and focus and be true to myself, and I am succeeding! I am 57 now. It is a wonderful journey.