March 29, 2014
Last night, on the PBS News Hour, Jeffrey Brown interviewed Benin-born singer, Angelique Kidjo. During the interview, Ms. Kidjo said, she once asked her mother, “Why we women are blamed for everything,” and her mother said, “Because men have told our story for us.” Kidjo went on to say, “We need to tell our stories, all of us – men, women, everyone all around the world.”
Our stories define us. Well told, they anchor us – not only in the who, what, where, how and when of our lives, but in the why of our lives. Poorly told, they leave us adrift, to be captured by those who would tell our story for us.
Our stories have power. Well told, they make us unique in their individuality and, yet, one with each other in their commonality. Poorly told, they leave us at the mercy of those who would take that power for themselves by remaking us in their image of who we should be and isolating us –from ourselves and from one another.
We are adrift in a flood of competing story snatchers – corporations, governments, media, religions, even family and friends; some well meaning, some malevolent – willing to offer us a better version of our stories than the one we are living if only we will buy this, vote for that, swallow this, believe that, do this, love/hate that.
So how, in this cacophonous competition of voices, do we find our voice, our story to tell? And why bother? Maybe their story of me really is better than mine.
I guess that’s the first decision you have to make if you want to tell your story. Just remember that the power of your story goes to the person whose version of your story you’re telling – whether it’s a spouse, a friend, a corporation, a government or a religion.
None of us, of course, have a story that is solely our own. Although we are the main character in our own story, it would be a pretty boring story if we were the only character. We’re born into or become part of a family, make and lose friends, buy products, participate in political activities, choose moral or spiritual values. Our lives intersect with others by choice and by chance. We get involved with, pull away from, get mushed and smushed by or mush and smush others in a thousand different ways throughout our lives. We make choices, good and bad, that affect our own stories and those of others, just as their choices affect ours. The power of your story is not in the perfection of its main character, but in the honesty with which you deal with your own imperfections and those of the people you encounter.
The danger of letting someone else tell your story, of losing that power, is that you are at the mercy of whatever story they tell. A good consumer must have the product du jour; a good citizen, hate the enemy du jour; a good Christian/Muslim/Atheist adhere to the belief du jour; a good woman/man, be the spouse or friend or family member du jour until you can’t anymore. And when you can no longer live their story, you realize you no longer have a story worth telling.
Hopefully, this is where most of us find ourselves at some time in our lives – until we finally take the time and do the difficult work of digging out our own, real and unique story.
That’s the story worth telling. That’s the story that anchors us, the one that makes us both an individual and connects us to each other and the world we share. That’s the story we must live to deal with the problems we are facing as a species.
That’s the story no one else can tell for us.