Telling each other stories
Telling each other stories
Today's Tarot prompt is "The Lovers".
I've been writing a bunch about relationships recently, so I thought I'd investigate some of its other actions: Establishing personal beliefs and determining values.
This naturally leads me to revisit "Finding Our Sea-Legs".
From page 141:
In this telling of tales, I do not entirely lose the story that I pass on; but neither do I keep hold of it in the same fashion as before. There is a gain and a loss. Both are inevitable, and a strict accounting of the two is impossible. Even if I sit in silence and listen to the stories of others, although at first glance it may seen that in hearing I only make gains, there are also losses, subtle losses: as I hear about another's sister-perhaps about her expertise in cooking aubergines-my own sister seems a greater or lesser aubergine cook than before; when I am told about the wolf, the traveler to my side once encountered on a lonely hillside, the wolf with which I exchanged glances one day in the municipal zoo transforms into a different wolf; and through these subtle, perhaps imperceptible changes in my sister or my wolf, so too I am changed.
Funnily, having gone from the lovers to values to finding our sea legs, we're back at a different meaning of the lovers: Relationships.
Finding Our Sea-Legs is a book about stories, and their interplay with ethics and our experience of others. I previously wrote about its focus on the phenomenology of ethics. This passage is more about the other "side" (in fact, the two are intimately related).
It makes me think about a couple of things:
- The mutability of memory. When we recall our memories, we fundamentally change them, overwriting details. We think of memory as a fixed record of facts, but it's more like stories we tell ourselves and others, over and over again, subtly mutating each time.
- The way all observation is theory-laden. It's hard to separate facts from our interpretation of it.
As we tell each other stories, we each give each other new ways of looking at the world, and we cast other experiences in that light.
One way I have seen this happening over and over again is when we tell people how we conceptualise our lives, we give them new tools for interpreting theirs. There's the "There's a word for that" moment where you give someone a new hermeneutical resource (a tool for interpretation, such as a new word or conceptual framework. For example, information about trans or non-binary people, or learning about the link between ADHD and rejection sensitive dysphoria), but you also see that in more subtle ways. For example, when you tell someone about an abusive behaviour in a relationship, this can cause them to recast similar things they've experienced as abusive. The story didn't give them the concept of abuse, or teach them a new thing about their life, but it gave them the permission to recast the story of their life in new terms that they would not previously have.
When these sorts of events happen, they do change our relationships with people - both past and present. Sometimes these changes are for the worse, realising how bad someone is for you, sometimes they are for the better, helping you realise how much someone means to you. Sometimes they give you new realisations and new directions to grow the relationship in.
I wrote previously about growth relationships. I think many of my closest friendships are growth relationships in this sense, to some greater or lesser degree, and several such relationships have ended up as the foundation of our mutual support group.
This sort of back and forth is in many ways essential to support group. I've found many of the most useful conversations in support group for me have not been ones centered around problems I've brought to the group (though those have been helpful too - in a few cases, literally life changing) but the conversations we've had around other people's problems - both where I've helped them, and listening to others' advice. Hearing and understanding their stories has given me a new framework to look at my own life.
In one sense, support group consists of getting together and helping each other solve our problems. In another, it is getting together and telling stories about our lives and building a shared interpretation of them. A great deal of why it works so well, and why relationships in general are such a great platform for growth, is that we are building a kind of shared canon of stories that we can build on - the Support Group Cinematic Universe so to speak - with which we can build our interpretive tools together, constantly deepening our understanding of our lives and the values we hold.