Tell Me Your Story

I have a secret goal.

I want to build a universal field theory of the human spirit.   Impossible, I know, but I can try, can’t I?

The magic of science is to let considered inquiry and evidence collide and then see where it takes you.  You have a rough theory, then the evidence shows where that theory imperfectly models what you are looking at and you have to come up with a better theory, a better idea, a better understanding.

Tell me your story.  Give me more evidence.  Let me understand better so I can be better.

I was reading some chat about The Joseph Campbell Companion, maybe the closest thing to scripture I have.  I read one comment

When I agree with him, the truth of it all just seems so obvious. When I disagree, I chalk it up to the fact that he was only one man who lived but one life.

That comment really irks me.   It’s not the way I approach the world.

When I agree, the world seems harmonious, sure.

But when I disagree, I chalk it up to the fact that I don’t understand where the author is coming from.

Actually, my interest isn’t in agreeing or disagreeing with the author, it is understanding or not understanding the author.  I assume that if someone took the time and effort to tell this story, they had something they needed to communicate, and it’s up to me to read their meaning, not to apply my own meaning and dismiss it.   They are doing their best to convey their experience of our shared world, and seeing through their eyes gives me more perspective, a clearer vision, more enlightenment.

Trying to deal with the world by deciding how much it meets your own belief structures, well, that seems to me to be a blinkered view.

My father was a design engineer, but his specialty was “conceptual design.”  He was fascinated with the exceptional in jet engine behaviour.

I know well that wasn’t the approach of most design engineers, or of most operating engineers.

There’s an old joke which asks how you determine the volume of a red rubber ball.   The mathematician measures the ball and calculates the volume.  The physicist gets a graduated cylinder, immerses the ball and measures the displacement.  The mechanical engineer gets the part number off the ball and then looks up the volume in his Handbook Of Red Rubber Balls.

When I find something that I don’t understand, some story that doesn’t make sense to me, it means to me that my understanding is imperfect and I need to learn.

And the odds are that new understanding will be challenging to me, because if it wasn’t, well, I would already own it.

I certainly don’t agree with every choice people make.  My agreement isn’t relevant or required.   And I certainly make my own choices, but that doesn’t mean people who don’t make the choices I would make are wrong.    To be human in the world is to hold a viewpoint, a perspective, a role, and other people have very different experience and views than I have.

A therapist found me exceptional because after I talked about how others made bad choices, I would go on to explain why they made those choices.  And I have always been able to channel others, to clearly elucidate their position in a way that they appreciate, even if I violently  disagree with that position.  Maybe that’s just the vestige of debate club training, where you have to be able to argue either side of an issue, or maybe it’s just my emotional empathy that has always swept me into the feelings of others.

All I know is that it is central to who I am, central to my path to create a unified field theory of the human spirit.

It has always frustrated me that I felt required to enter the worlds of other people to understand and feel their position while so very few people are able to come into my world and see through my experience.  That means that while I work to create shared language, work to find the universal, their language usually excludes me, erases what I value.  They dismiss me as just one person who doesn’t count, holding onto what they choose to agree with.

So many people hold views that they really want to believe are considered and logical, but are really outgrowths of their belief structures.  That doesn’t make the views any less real or good or true or powerful, it just means that they come from some place deep down inside of them, from some inner knowledge that they hold dear and valuable.  I know that I need to understand and respect that belief structure because it very much informs their life and their choices, and that no amount of rational argument will change those deep feelings.

That doesn’t mean that beliefs can’t grow and evolve, because they do.  It just means that they do that in ways that are other than rational, usually through compassion and empathy.  It is when we engage the heartbreak of others that we open to new ways of experiencing the world, open to seeing the limits of our own belief systems.   Feeling the feelings of others, usually when encapsulated in a story, helps us be part of a bigger world.  When our heart goes out to someone, it grows.

Tell me your story.  It’s your story, your experience told in the best way you can manage.  Let me reflect that story back to you in a way that you find affirming.

And then I can get more understanding, become more open, have a more useful view of our shared world.

Because that is important, at least to me.