I was attending a farewell function at a university when graduating students were called upon to share a few words about their journey. Some recalled of moments when they first entered the college premises, while some went back to their childhood ambitions and how they landed up in this college. Listening to them recounting their experiences, one thing was apparent that all of them had many stories to share; some of which made me revisit my own college days. Isn’t it magical how stories connect and influence us? In fact, life is all about stories!
This week we saw the death of two superstars Irfan Khan and Rishi Kapoor. While death put an abrupt ending to their life, they left us with stories worth retelling. Perhaps this is the reason why many of us who have never met or seen them termed their death as a personal loss.
Understanding from the realm of narrative psychology, human beings deal with experiences by observing and listening to stories. All of us construct narratives about ourself, where we have come from and where we aim to be. Life is often a roller coaster ride filled with challenges, pain, loss, heartbreaks and failures. How we choose to reflect on, integrate and tell the facts and events of our lives to ourselves, influences the impression we form about our identity. The default mode of human cognition is a narrative mode. Organizing our life into a narrative reflecting on the past, present and imagined future sometimes helps to understand ourselves better. It also makes us reflect whether we are actively playing the role of the lead actor of our life or not? Are we in charge of our story or we are just letting others and external events pilot our life? While reading this piece if you have mentally drifted in your ‘life story’ and if it’s not matching your expectations, don’t lose heart. Remember, you are still the narrator and the lead character! If this contemplation however has made you sad, thinking that you are merely living your life like a passenger not the driver, then maybe ponder over your role in ‘others’ story. You never know like a ‘supporting actor’ you are the one assisting the lead actor in steering their life story ahead.
Stories help us connect with each other. Understanding its impact, most advertising firms try to weave a story when trying to influence the buyer to buy a product. An example could be the recent Ramzan ad on Neki ki Raah by Surf excel. In real life too, most intimate human bonds are formed where the stories of life are expressed honestly, in its natural form with its blessings, flaws and hurdles. You must have experienced that in real life when we want someone to know us, we share our stories with them; stories from our childhood, schooldays, family, love, political views, interests and others. Similarly, in order to know someone well, we try to know their experiences, trials, turning points and all those factors that were instrumental in shaping their personality. It often happens that we find telling the stories of others easier than narrating our own story. The reason is we are scared to lay bare our own weaknesses, flaws and vulnerabilities for our own perceived image of ideal self prevents us from expressing our imperfections openly. We then become guilty of presenting our story in a socially desirable manner. Doing this, we fail to connect with self and others sometimes. We should not share our story for the mere purpose of impression management on others; for it will take ‘you’ far from ‘you’ in ‘your’ story!
The significance of an effective narrative can increase our stakes for sound decision making. So many times, hiring decisions based solely on a candidate’s resume or a marriage decision looking at a mere biodata, as in an arranged marriage system goes utterly wrong. The reason is that a biodata and resume do serve the purpose of a short biography providing chronological information. Still, it doesn’t tell our ‘story’.
Stories shape society. We see it in operation in the current scenario. The sad state of the rising communal divide in our country can be hugely credited to the media houses and news channels incessantly working for a high TRP by creating stories that sell. People believe what they see and what they see is produced for them- catchy and inflammatory stories. One story high in demand because of its attention-grabbing nature leads to multiple recitations of the same story on different platforms. From thinking beings, we are then reduced to just following the herd allowing the media to shape our thoughts and beliefs. The intensity and frequency with which these narratives are shared, unconsciously manipulate our deep-rooted realities successfully.
In times of turbulence, the kind of stories we tell ourselves and others have an enormous impact on how we cope with it. So, it’s wiser to be mindful of the stories we watch and share. As per the theory of life script by famous psychologist Eric Berne, our stories are very much written unconsciously relying heavily on our younger years. However, it gets continuously updated, with more tangible characters, from messages, influences and interactions with others. In current uncertain times, lets reexamine constructively the narratives that pull us down, and weave stories that take us forward as a person and society. Remember the stories we knit and rehearse, have the power to construct us, break us, reshape us and define us. So, what’s your story?
Authors Bio: Dr Farah Naqvi is a writer, academician and behavioural scientist. She started her career with Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad and worked with institutions like ICFAI Hyderabad, IBA Bangalore and Center for Organization Development, Hyderabad as Asst Professor. Currently, she is associated with Indian Institute of Business Psychology (IIBP) as Senior Researcher.