I tell myself stories. All the time.
Truth be told, I tell myself the same stories, over and over. These are the most common three stories I tell myself:
- I’m brilliant, super-competent, an order of magnitude better than those by whom I’m surrounded.
- I’m confused: on the one hand, something looks super-clear to me, but the entire rest of the world disagrees. I’m not sure if this means I’m uniquely perceptive and bright, or if it means there’s some fundamental way in which I’m not of this world.
- Related to that last clause in #2, above – Everyone else is doing/talking about something, but for whatever set of reasons, I’m excluded. Maybe because I’m not invited. Maybe because I didn’t know. Maybe both.
Of course, I tell myself other stories (I’m curious, open, uniquely receptive; I’m the world’s most desirable man; I’m the world’s least desirable man; and so on.)
The stories themselves don’t seem so interesting to me. An example: this morning, as I showered, I observed myself telling myself one of these stories. I belong to a group that’s struggling with a question. The question feels very straightforward and uncomplicated to me. In fact, I’m certain – not in a grandiose way, but in a simple, clean, confident way – that I could conclusively determine the answer to this question in 1-2 hours, given the opportunity. For reasons having to do with a combination of leadership (and the lack thereof) on the one hand, and ubiquitous anxiety, on the other, the group is paralyzed. Questions are discouraged; action, forbidden.
Now, this story is not a story about the group, or about my role in it. It’s a combination of all three stories above: I’m smarter than everyone else, but somehow I’m operating in a reality different from them.
Never mind the challenges this creates for me interpersonally. The flip side of the story I’ve just told, of course, is that there’s a group of people who can sense that I think I somehow know more than them, that I want to do something/proceed in a way that makes them really anxious, that demands they move away from their far more comfortable stasis. This can make people angry at and scared of me.
For the purposes of this blog, I’m wondering what these stories say about me. On one hand, I know, clearly, what they say, because I’ve spent several decades being me, and I recognize in these stories a recapitulation of many of the central struggles of my childhood. The ease with much that is challenging for others. The exclusion from much, but especially, from knowledge. The sense of simultaneous clarity/knowledge/certainty and utter bafflement/confusion/ignorance.
On the other hand, I’m less certain. Why do I tell these stories? How do I benefit from constructing the world in a way that tells me these stories over and over and over?
I know some theoretical answers to these questions, of course, but they continue to fascinate me.
What are the stories you tell yourself?