You just had a big fight with your significant other. You both go off to lick your wounds. Part of your wound licking involves phoning your bestie for a friendly ear.
After you recount the argument you had with your honey, your buddy is shocked. “I can’t believe he said those awful things to you!” she exclaims.
“It’s true.” you say. But is it?
There are three sides to every story –
yours, mine and the truth.
Here’s the thing, every time you recount a event, it changes. With every telling of a story, it morphs. As human beings, we rarely repeat our recollections exactly as they happened. Why? Because we all have a set of filters within us called emotions.
Every experience we have in life has the potential to become a story. And by story, I mean the little narratives that we use to make sense of our lives. We use them as little tools to help us understand how to perceive the world around us and how, and where, we fit in that world. They help us form our memories and by extension, our personalities as well.
The stories we tell ourselves
Let’s go back to the argument with your partner example. The first thing you probably did after it was over was replay it in your head to make sense of what happened. You are still in an emotional state and will no doubt pepper the replay with justifications to defend your part in the argument and in doing so, you are forming the story as you see it. It will never be a true rendering of the event because your ego makes sure the drama is inclined to your defense.
Your ego wants nothing more than to protect the status quo. It likes the situation of who you are right now just fine and will do what it can to protect its interest – you. So you will colour the story in your head to protect your side of the argument and in doing so, the true rendition of what just happened is recorded in your memory incorrectly because it is slanted in your favour and from your perspective.
The same goes for good experiences too. Every time you recall a fond memory in your mind it gets replayed through the lens of love, happiness and contentment. The little irritants fade away because they are not important to the memory which you cherish. Surely not a bad thing as it is the best part of the experience that you want to remember. Not the rock in your sandal at the beach that day, or the forgotten napkins from the family picnic, even though these memory are still part of the true story. And so as memories fade over time, it is only the highlights, the best parts, that we tend to remember.
The stories we tell others
Let’s go back to the argument example from above. You have replayed the argument in your head and have created a story to justify your part in the altercation and now you want to tell your version to someone else. So you dial up your friend and recount the drama.
The story will morph once again as you and your friend converse. Like your ego, your friend is probably on your side of the argument and will want to support you during your time of upset. They will more than likely add their opinion to the story as well, further morphing the story with more perspectives and plot twists.
When we tell stories to others, we are co-creating. Even though you are the primary narrator of the story, your friend will filter the story once more with their own personal memories and experiences. As you discuss the argument with your friend, whether they take your side or have enough insight to see both sides, they can not but help interject a third perspective into the event.
Stories have legs
Gossip is the original fake news. You started the spread of false information by confiding in your friend. If she shares it with another friend or if you share it with another friend, the story will have been filtered by your emotions and past experiences, the first friends emotions and past experiences, and now a third persons emotions and past experiences.
It’s like the childhood game where you sit in a circle and whisper a sentence to the person beside you as they, in turn, do the same to the person beside them. By the time it comes around the circle and back to you, odds are the sentence no longer resembles itself. Often times, its not even close.
Now consider for a moment that your significant other has gone through the same emotional steps that you have just done over this argument. He too replays the disagreement in his head, using his own emotional filters and past experiences to satisfy his ego and justify his stance. Then, he calls up a buddy and over beers, tells his side of the blow-up. By the time the two of you come together again to hash out the problem, who knows what the story has contorted into.
The stories that we tell are rarely absolutely true. Yes, they may have the main important points. Yes, they can convey a close approximation of what really happened, but if you think that a living, breathing emotion creature such as a human being has the ability to recount an experience exactly as it occurred, then you would be filtering that opinion through your own emotions and experiences and be some what wrong.
Is it any wonder stories can get blown so out of proportion? How could anyone be surprised when world leaders take such ridiculous positions on issues. They are human too after all and are as fallible as the next person with the stories that they tell.
In the end, this is my story. Is it true? Is it factual? Well, it is to me.