Gift Six: Perspective and Validation of Our Story

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In Dale Carnegie’s book, How To Win Friends and Influence People, he states that one of the greatest needs human beings have is validation—“a feeling of importance”—as Mr. Carnegie describes it.

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A story, in its short moments, can unload a great deal of truth about our value, importance.  The person sitting next to us, during the short moments of its telling, would have no idea that a huge searchlight was shining upon our life.  At the same time, a story can give us a generous pat on the back and a big “Woohoo, way to go!”  We might want to stand on the chair we’re sitting on and say, “That story we just heard was all about me! That heroine—yup, that’s me… That person doing the right and virtuous thing—just exchange my name for theirs! ”

It’s one of story’s gifts—the gift of validation.

In close kinship with this gift is the how story can help us gain perspective on our own story.  Perspective is when we can back away from a situation, a relationship, and experience, and gain insight into its reality. A dear friend of our family, spent his doctoral thesis on this very subject—perspective-taking—naming it one of the single most important lenses we place on our life and all the living going on around us.  You’ve heard that too-often-repeated police officer line, “Step away from the car,” right?  Well, we would be wise to take this advisement of insight our lives:  “Step away from your life and take a good look at it.”

The fresh start of a new year, a new semester, a new season, can bring this act of perspective-taking into full view. Here’s a thought: what if we made it a goal to pursue story for the purpose of taking perspective on our lives, the world we live in?  Key to this would be listening—actively listening—to the stories all around us with this goal in mind—“What can I learn, gain or enter into as I hear this story?”

There is a wonderful Jewish folktale called “It Could Always Be Worse” or “The Rabbi’s Gift” as found in Brian Cavanaugh’s book The Sower’s Seeds.

It’s very fun tale to tell.  A humble father and husband, has a small home, a small income and to top that off, every relative seems to have found their way to his home during a hard time.  Being a good Jew he goes to his Rabbi for counsel.  The Rabbi’s counsel is to bring his livestock, one at a time, into the home to live with his family.  It seems absurd, but the Rabbi is wise so he does this very thing. Finally, he begs the Rabbi to help him—it’s a smelly, noisy, awful mess in his home.  Then the Rabbi advises him to take them all out, one animal group at a time.  What the man realizes is this: the home is roomy, clean and quiet once again. In other words, it wasn’t so bad after all.  In actuality, the man did some perspective- taking.

These two gifts of validation and perspective taking can be given away to others by us as well.  It can happen every time we intentionally pick up a truly good story and read it to another person, retell a meaningful news story, tell something from the fountain of our own story.  We pass to our listener or listeners the opportunity for back away and take a look at their life, a moment to feel a little more wonderful and valuable to the world than they did before those short moments of its telling.

Thanks for being those kinds of tellers—the ones with intention as you give away a story.

Our next and last gift of “The Seven Gifts of Story”—Letting a Story Inside.

Until then, may the story you tell today, on purpose, change someone… I know it can.


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