When Their Story Doesn’t Match Ours
There is a quote by Anne Lamott “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
It’s never quite sat well with me. There has always been a sense of disquiet, because I know people can behave well and still have bad stories told about them. I know you can think you are behaving well, and someone still experiences your behaviour badly. It’s not as simple as behave well, not everyone’s stories are factually accurate.
I have a very postmodern idea of truth, there is not one truth, there are many versions of the truth. We each interpret events, emotions, and interactions differently. Our truth of the situation can be very different to the truth experienced by someone else participating in the situation.
What do we do when one person’s truth is so incredibly opposite to ours we think they are impaired or delusional to see their actions as ok? What do we do when this person is so convicted of their truth, so skilled at manipulation, and so well versed in playing the victim, their truth negatively impacts our lives and the lives of our loved ones? How do we reconcile holding space for their truth, when it seeks to destroy our happiness?
I think it’s easy to dismiss that truth as lies, delusions, and spite. When we do that, we dehumanise the person, we create a category for them, we designate them as a liar, a fraud. We dismiss their pain and struggles. We also cease to take responsibility for our part in the drama, because we have decided the other person is, quite frankly, full of shit.
Does that serve us though? Or do we create a caricature of the person. No one is all bad, conversely, no one is all good; no matter how hard we try to behave that way. Long standing conflict is fuelled by these caricatures. We lose our compassion, we abdicate responsibility. We dismiss any kind gesture as manipulation. None of that serves us.
I have a person in my life who is a huge source of conflict, drama, and unnecessary stress. She has done some terrible things; making numerous calls to get us evicted, making false complaints that resulted in an 18 month investigation and cost us tens of thousands of dollars. There is much, much more, but it serves no purpose to publish a laundry list of wrongdoing.
It has been very easy to dismiss her story. We recently received a paperwork filled with ‘her story’ which bears very little resemblance to our truth. The people she tells her story to are almost always swayed into believing her story is ‘the truth’. I think a big reason for this is that she is so convinced it is THE truth. There is no room in her story for any wrong doing on her part.
As I write this, I have to pause and reflect. Is there anyroom in MY story for any wrong doing on my part? Sure, I accept there are times I have overstepped, or said things that were hurtful or confronting. I don’t see those things are particularly bad behaviour, because I view them through the lens of what I perceive as her far worse behaviour.
What if I stopped for a moment and stepped outside my story. What if I suspended my truth. What if I wondered about how my actions were perceived through her lens of my perceived awful behaviour?
What if all of the positive, kind gestures I felt I had made were treated with the same level of suspicion and scepticism I treat hers? I think I can be fairly assured that they are. We are all on this merry go round, telling ourselves our stories, filtering events in a way to fit our truths. It doesn’t serve any of us.
I’m not sure how to navigate our truths and stories more gracefully and graciously. I have learned from bitter experience that believing there has been a thawing in relationships or a positive change is all too quickly dissolved by founding out about things said behind my back, actions taken that show bad faith. I have been on this roller coaster far too many times to willingly re-embark.
How do we hold a boundary, keeping ourselves safe, while accepting the terrible stories others tell about us are not only their truth, but perhaps contain kernels of a fact based truth. It would be easy to fallback on the Anne Lamott quote and say the other should have behaved better. I think in some ways that is a cop out. It’s an abdication of responsibility, it’s an invitation to victimhood.
How do you hold your truth, while accepting the truth of another that is not flattering or kind may hold some factual truths?