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.