What glasses are we looking at our lives through? Just think – it makes a hell of a difference what story we tell and how we frame the future.
In 8 Habits of Love, Ed Bacon describes a worshop where participants were asked to write a brief autobiography from three points of view: as a victim, a hero and a learner. And just thinking about it, it not only makes a difference, but shows where the choices were and still are. I thought I would try it:
The victim part was unpleasantly easy and made me realize I must make a point of NOT letting it be my narrative – or my identity. Also that so often one offers one's vulnerabilities as an act of bonding, a way of finding something in common. You make no friends by saying, as one woman did when I was struggling with infertility, “Eric only has to drop his pyjamas and I get pregnant.” Matching experiences has often opened the door to friends' deeper lives, but makes it even easier to dwell on The hurdles in life. And mine has been like a slapstick gymkhana.
The hero was much more difficult and I wonder if that is from a punitive Protestant upbringing. Nice girls do not brag or even think of themselves in terms of success. Telling my story from this perspective was a surprise: wow, what had felt like struggling through mud, was actually heroic? It did, though, make me see that, rather than a series of endurance tests, I could reframe my life in terms of victories.
The learner was most interesting as it made me realize the huge benefits I had gained from experiences that, at the time, felt almost insuperable. The year my mother died, I grew. I wouldn't have wanted to learn through her suffering, but I wouldn't hand back what I now know.
A wonderful example of learning comes from Roberto d'Angelo and Francesca Fideli whose son Mario had a stroke at 10 days old. This destroyed most of the right hemisphere of his brain. Their initial reaction, “how could this happen to us?” morphed into feeling they had failed – failed to produce a healthy child. They moved determinedly from victim to hero, working round the clock at mirror neuron exercises to rebuild his brain. That's the way we always solve problems – by doing something. Then came a moment of truth: Mario was not a problem to be fixed, but an opportunity to improve. They realized they were mirroring their sadness and instead decided to reflect the world to him. They took him to see what they loved best, to offer him an open possible world. They tell this in a TED talk and we see Mario run into the studio at the end to hug them.
Ed Bacon points out that each viewpoint uses different energies with different outcomes:
A victim needs to be defended, vindicated or avenged;
A hero needs justification, ego promotion or validation;
A learner seeks illumination, correction and direction.
Which would I rather be? A learner by far. A learner has humility (knows how little she knows, but also that the sky's the limit). A learner knows he isn't always right (avoids getting trapped in a mistake and that different outcomes exist); and that we don't have to be small in our souls, that there's direction and guidance if we have the humility to accept it.
Which one? No question!
Roberto Angelo, Francesca Fideli and Mario – link. I hope you will watch this – it is so inspiring! If you have any problem getting it go to: http://www.ted.com/talks and scroll down the titles. It is the 9th on the right hand side.
Explanation of mirror neurons and Mario's therapy – link
8 Habits of Love: Open Your Heart, Open Your Mind by Ed Bacon.
The conference exercise was developed by Betty Sue Flowers.