Over Christmas, I’ve been reading Bruce Feiler’s latest book “Life is in the transitions”. A friend had offered it to me after talking about the way life has become nonlinear over the last few decades.
It’s not sure that life ever was linear. However, wanting to see it as something linear impacted how we’ve dealt with failures and crises. The pandemic being one that affected all of us.
From a linear point of view, a crisis is not supposed to happen.
From a non-linear point of view, a crisis happens and it is how we deal with it that is relevant.
It seems to me, that our ability to switch from one to the other point of view depends on where we find meaning. If meaning is in the linearity of our experience, it is hard to deal with its disappearance. On the other hand, if meaning is something that is connected to the way we react to our experience, we depend less on the external experience. It gives a foundation on which to redraw something meaningful to us.
In the book, Bruce Feiler shares his many findings from interviewing 225 people and asking them about their life stories. By combining vignettes from these life stories with his research he draws a picture of transitions I found enlightening. As a storyteller himself Feiler finds ways to share stories that resonate, often transforming doubts and questions into an understanding of our own stories.
To me, Feiler wonderfully summed it up by describing what sharing stories does.
“Stories empower us. They give us a sense of agency.”
The more we are able to share our stories, the more often we revisit them and find new ways to tell them. As we do, we gain a better understanding of the story we are experiencing and telling. It is creating the meaning that leads us in that moment.
“Stories connect us. They give us a sense of belonging.”
One of the stunning things that happen when we hear other people’s stories and share our own is how we can become part of something bigger than ourselves. It isn’t telling the story or hearing the story. By sharing stories we create new meaning, one that surprises us as the story unfolds. It creates a shared experience. It establishes belonging.
“Stories inspire us. They give us purpose, focus, and cause. They make us more human, and more humane.”
That’s where modern times and social media have led us astray. They have led us to share the story we think others expect. They have transformed how we seek to belong. And by transforming the story we could share into one we should share agency is getting lost.
As Bruce Feiler says, it’s time to return to the campfire. To a place, where we can and want to share our stories.
Bringing campfires and storytellers into 2021 seems like a good way to transition out of the pandemic.