Keturah Scott, the ever present, effervescent Director of the NFS Fellowship program, during a morning conversation at my local café, “Classique”, over an almost-as-good-as-Sydney-coffee, said something in passing that has stuck in my head. We were having one of our weekly sessions (as part of the program we meet with Keturah routinely to touch base and debrief). “What story are you telling yourself?” Keturah didn’t ask it as a question directly, it came up in conversation. I have since repeated the line, the question in my head many times over – at first inadvertently, and then on purpose. What story am I telling myself? Lather, rinse, repeat. What story am I telling myself? Lather, rinse, repeat. It then became, what stor[ies] am I telling myself?
Funnily enough, this reminded me of a story I once read. I think it was on a fridge magnate. The parable was from the Native American tradition, one that some of you have probably heard. I had to Google it to get it right.
There was a tribal elder who was telling his grandson about the battle the old man was waging inside himself. He said, “It is between two wolves, my son. One is an evil wolf: Anger, envy, sorrow, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is the good wolf: Joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.” The boy thought this over for a minute, and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?” The old Cherokee replied simply: “The one I feed.”
The more I thought about the some what vexatious, but mostly penetrating and abstruse question that Keturah asked, the more I thought about how our behaviour is driven by the stories we tell ourselves. Stories that can be blotted with truth and untruth, and are almost always biased and self-serving in some respect.
These stories, these narrative patterns are built up over time, they reinforce the way we live our lives, and for better or worse they can change. We are all part of a story – we move in and out of many narratives throughout our lives. We help tell many stories; we are part of other peoples and other community’s stories. But this is not what I mean. What story or stories are you telling yourself? We’ve all had someone say to us, “keep telling yourself that”, at least I have. We all tell ourselves things, we all have an inner dialogue – some people use it to self reflect and analyse, some people to convince themselves to do something, to talk themselves in and out of certain situations. I do all of the above. I’m getting better at self-reflection, that part of my inward story telling has matured out of necessity.
Lather, rinse, repeat. What story are you telling yourself? Lather, rinse, repeat. What story are you telling yourself? All week like an incessant out-of-pitch choir. What stories do we tell ourselves and why? These stories are how we convince ourselves – they are how we justify the time and money we spend, how we assure ourselves we are okay, right, healthy, just and whole – when many of us lack many of these things. I certainly have my moments.
As I said above, not all of the stories we tell ourselves are true or authentic. It is the way we live our lives that that makes these fictional stories seem true. It is by choice that we convince ourselves that we are right when we are wrong or that it’s okay either way. These stories we repeat in our heads, in our hearts, the fiction and the non-fiction, inform our character, worldview, opinions, beliefs and values – they make us who we are. The stories we tell ourselves should be useful, they should help us move forward, even if it is a stumble. I think it is the dishonest stories we tell ourselves that leave us feeling stagnated, the ones that push us back. What story are you telling yourself? Which wolf are you feeding today?