Recently I ran across a digital scrap in my computer that is now bouncing around my brain – something I jotted down last August, simply: “Who tells the story? How we tell the story shapes the meaning.” As illustrated by the weekend controversy over the red capped white boys + native elder on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, stories are an account of events, but oh!! can they spin! The who and the how can give dramatically different shapes to the meaning.
Last week I sat in the jury box during jury selection for a criminal case, and as the lawyers on both sides of the case questioned me and the others in that box it was clear they were already spinning the story, building different meanings that they each hoped the jury for this case would ultimately conclude.
In thinking about all this, I remembered a blog post I wrote a long time ago about my reading of The Life of Pi and so I went back and read it. I ended that post with these questions: How do we assign meaning to story? How does story illuminate the truth? How does truth differ from facts?
The reality that a storyteller shapes a story to make meaning can (and does) swamp me, a story teller. In my honest effort to tell a story, I bog down in the angles on truth. I reject a story – I’m talking about my own lived stories! – because it won’t distill to a literal fact, and as I try to make sense of things it feels super vulnerable to tell a story that can spin.
But I’ve long been a sucker for the idea that story provides the life-giving, meaning-making framework for our lives. In The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human author Jonathan Gottschall states “the human mind was shaped for story, so that it could be shaped by story” and Madeleine L’Engle explores this in her book, Rock that is Higher: Story as Truth. One of my favorite lines from her book: “This is the story that gives meaning to my life…the life-giving, lifesaving story is true story that transcends facts.”
And so I press on. Learning to trust the process and myself, I’ll tell my stories in spite of the spin because story telling shapes meaning, and meaning making helps me to live.