Telling True Stories

There are many stories we are told that simply aren't true. For example, the people eating at McDonalds in the commercials are typically outrageously thin. (Did you see Supersize Me?) Often people's lifestyles aren't what they appear to be. (I once wondered how friends of mine lived the lifestyle they did on only one income, and later learned they had $50k in credit card debt.) I have friends with amazing figures who I later learned were enhanced by plastic surgery. I can't count the number of beauty products, weight loss methods, relationship books, et. al. I've invested in that simply didn't work as promised. (Apparently you can't actually buy a cream that will erase cellulite.)

And while these untrue stories may seem harmless, they create unreal expectations and craft false constructs of how the world works.

And we live under their bias. They affect our behavior. (I'm curious how many of the marriages we've seen fall apart weren't due to untrue stories about the realities of their marriage or how love works. Even more curious if the leaving spouse tells a true story to themselves now about how their decisions actually turned out.)

I'm unsure in a world of untrue stories and unreal expectations how you get to authenticity--especially since we aren't completely aware when the stories we've been told aren't true. (It took me a long time to realize how many spiritual homilies I'd been told that weren't actually Biblically real, just stories told to reinforce the teller's viewpoint.)

In 1992, Steve Martin and Debra Winger made a movie about a faith healer called Leap of Faith. The faith healer character's get-out-of-jail-free card if the healing didn't work was always, "Well, you must not have had enough faith." Cons work because they play on something human in us. They appeal to our longings. They take advantage of trust. In this case, putting the failure factor on the one not healed works because something in us knows we fail. The weight loss and health club companies gamble on this. The product doesn't work not because it is a bad product, but because we didn't use it right. (Note how many supplements and exercise machines come with 'diet plans' of about 800-1200 calories a day that are never mentioned in the large print.)

And while you can become closed to protect yourself from the con, that just creates more untrue stories.

So what does authenticity look like? How do we become tellers of true stories?

I think for one thing we have to quit managing our image. I ran into a woman I hadn't seen in a long time and asked what she was doing now. It didn't take long for her to frame the job as temporary....a stepping stone to something else. Then she went on with more narrative to separate herself from the people she was working with. To make sure I knew she was just working with them. She wasn't one of them. She was managing her image. (I could be pretty self-righteous telling this story, except that moments later when I went to check out, I made up a story to tell my husband to use the credit card because I didn't want to confess we might be dangerously low in checking.)

Another thing is we have to realize that truth is important enough to brave consequences. My sister told me a story of her friend's husbands confessions of the details of his affair and how much it had devastated her friend. She commented that the man shouldn't have revealed it. But to be authentic, he has to. Moreover, if the wife decides to stay with him, she needs to make the decision on true facts. Anything less is fraud. And if the consequences are that she leaves...well, at least it is a true consequence, which beats the heck out of living with a skeleton in the closet.

Maybe most importantly, we have to be willing to live open. To actually let people get to know us. The beautiful and the ugly. The things that are still in process. Because though being skeptical and closed will protect you from the con, it doesn't let you live as who you truly are. You become a manufactured version of yourself.

Manufactured people aren't real people. And only real people can tell true stories.

1 comment

Greg Baird said...

So true, Cathy. I've come to appreciate authenticity in people like never before. "Just be real!" I wish I could tell everyone I meet. And I tell myself, too, that that's the best person to be...who I am is going to show sooner or later, so just start out that way and there's really nothing to "manage". Thanks for the great reminder!

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© Random Cathy
Maira Gall