“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” - Philip Pullman
We all have experiences that challenge us in some way. Whether we feel scared, embarrassed, or angry, we go through situations that evoke uncomfortable feelings. It is easy to feel victimized by these experiences and come away feeling violated in some way. When we find ourselves struggling to get our bearings after a difficult encounter, it is important to pay attention to the story we are telling ourselves about what has happened.
The story we tell about life determines the way we feel. This was perfectly illustrated at a party in Topanga Canyon. The party was moving along joyfully when a 6-foot long snake appeared on the pool deck. A majority of the party attendees were not familiar with snakes, and were terrified at the sight of the slithering fellow. Most of them jumped on chairs, or tried to get as far away as possible.
One man in attendance had a completely different response. His eyes lit up when he saw the snake. He had grown up with snakes as pets, and had studied the different varieties of snakes. He actually enjoyed being around snakes. It helped that he recognized the type of snake and knew that is was not a threat to him, or anyone else.
This man was so intrigued by the cold-blooded party crasher that he picked it up and had it slung across his shoulders in no time. He proceeded to introduce the snake to other party attendees. He was able to demonstrate a new way of looking at something that had, at first glance, appeared to be a major threat.
Like the man at the party, and the guests who lined up to pet the snake, we can learn new ways of looking at situations that once evoked fear in our hearts. In fact, parents and teachers do this for children, and adults, all-day, everyday. Most importantly, we can act as a guide for our own minds when we are feeling scared, angry, or embarrassed by difficult situations.
When we tell a new story, we begin to have new experiences. For example, I had a difficult lunch group last week. Immediately after the group, I questioned my abilities as a teacher. I was tempted to hand in my badge and seek a new profession. Then I took a moment to remind myself that my job is not always easy, and that the best teachers have difficult days. I thought about all of the groups that have gone well, and all of the wonderful young people that I had gotten to know over the years. This refreshed my mind and allowed me to return to work without any lingering doubts about my worth.
To further illustrate, I know a kindergarten student who was once convinced that he had no friends. It seemed strange to me because whenever I would go to the cafeteria to pick him up, he was surrounded by other little boys. They were always laughing together; the other smiling faces calling him by name. The problem was that, regardless of what the other children did, he believed he had no friends.
Due to his age, this was an easy fix. I simply pointed out how silly his story was. When I went to get him, I encouraged him to notice all of the friends that surrounded him. Six months later, and this student is no longer concerned with having friends. When asked, he will joyfully list off the names of several of his buddies.
Remember, you have the ability to tell a new story about any troubling situation. For many of us, who have been taught to look outside of ourselves for answers, this exercise may seem futile. It will not take long, however, for the relief to kick in. You will naturally increase the value that you place on your own story, when you realize that the way you feel is directly tied to the things you believe about yourself and the world around you. When you change your story, a new freedom will open up. You will discover that the possibilities for you are limitless.
Photo (Top): Tell yourself a new story. Believe that you have the best to offer, because it is true. Lorena Lopez, Noon Duty Supervisor at La Ballona Elementary School, encourages all of our students to believe in themselves.
Edward Biagiotti is the Inclusion Specialist for Culver City Unified School District. He is also co-host of the popular radio show, Funniest Thing! with Darrell and Ed, to find out more go to www.DarrellandEd.com.