What happened? How does the Story end?
It’s been a week of narrative challenge for me; I have been hearing lots of versions of the same story but no clear truth of what really happened to our friend who so sadly and unexpectedly passed away.
And it leads me to ask, how important is it to know the full story? It amazes me how in the light of few details and no fact, people become convinced that they do indeed know the full story. What is it that makes us need to know the end? And whether or not there is a true version, we seem to need to tell and retell, to hear and rehear the same story until we have personally decided what really happened.
When I talk and teach about the Power of Storytelling, I always talk about the narrative structure. How important it is that the story has a start, middle and end – that this creates a narrative journey both for our protagonist, our listener and ourselves as tellers.
When I coach my clients through their journey, there is clearly a reflection of the narrative journey. As we face life’s biggest challenges, we are presented with a story that unfolds before us (similar to the narrative structure); with a start, middle and end.
I always remember a few months after my father passed away, my little niece, about three years old at the time, was getting herself ready to go out to the park. She said on the door step and was talking to herself. She said , “we’re going to the park now, mummy’s coming and daddy’s coming and my sister is coming and grandma is coming and grandpa, he’s not coming with us, he’s dead, and we’ll go on the slide and…”. She didn’t even hesitate. She simply told herself the story as it is. It was very clear.
When we examine storytelling in the context of life coaching, the story structure can be seen as a parallel or metaphor for the main structures that exist in our lives. The Story structure does provide the listener with a sense of order and security; and actually, life structures have the same role. The difference is that in the story, everything is clear and stated whereas in life we don’t know how it’s going to play out. In real life we don’t know if the protagonist wins or loses, if they succeed in their mission or fail, if the person lives or dies (and if they die, how and why?).
And although this is the wonder and beauty of life, the not knowing, it is also the source of great concern, worry and anxiety. Hence, the comfort of stories, where we hear exactly what happens, it is defined and definite. It is safe. And whether the end of the story is happy or sad, it is known and that provides great comfort.
So what is it about human nature that desperately needs to hear the end of the story?
Is it just that the story creates comfort and safety even though there are plenty of stories that don’t have a ‘happy-end’?
Are we soothed by the fact that there is a conclusion, that we somehow can understand the meaning of the story when we hear the end of it?
Are the stories that we need to hear the end of, just those that involve highly dramatic and emotive incidents?
Or do we need to know the end of ALL of our life stories?
Well, possibly the answer is yes to every one of these questions.
We are soothed by knowing the end of a story. We are more comfortable when we know what happened…and can more easily sit with life in a place of security and confidence.
My wish for all of us this week is that we learn to accept the conclusions of the stories that are around us with grace, understanding and a sense of completion; and that we learn to find peace within the stories that do not yet have an ending.
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