I recently had some minor surgery – a lesion removed from just underneath my eye – but like any kind of surgery, it involved cutting and sewing. And anytime you do that, especially where the skin is pretty tender, there’s bruising.
Now, my results came out just fine, but that’s not my point. I chose to have that done on a Tuesday afternoon. On Wednesday, I flew to Orlando where I staffed an exhibit booth at a trade show the rest of the week, returning the following Monday, when I had stitches removed.
That’s right. I talked to people – all of them strangers – for three long days, all while sporting a lovely black eye.
You know what? Not one of them said a thing to me. Not that I’d expect strangers to do that, but in the give-and-take banter of the trade show world, it’s easy to be looser with the comments. Plus, there’s an anonymity about strangers that’s comforting.
I know my nature. I’m pretty curious. If I see you have a black eye (and believe me, I will notice those things), I probably won’t mention it unless we strike up a conversation and create some rapport, and you appear to be approachable and open and upfront. Then, I might just say something in a humorous way about your shiner.
Of course, I’m pretty approachable, I laugh a lot, and I have a wicked sense of humor – all of which shows itself pretty easily. So I often find myself in interesting conversations with strangers. But this time, no one said a thing. One thing you can probably be sure of is that many of them wondered, though. I know I would have.
And that, I think, says a lot about how we all have our own stories – starring ourselves – and our own realities. Let me explain, because even I would be scratching my head over that statement. Hopefully I can pull out a better explanation.
I met hundreds of people, spoke to most of them, and joked around with way more than half of them. I’m not stupid. No one may have asked about my black eye, but you couldn’t NOT see it, you know? I mean, it was a lovely purplish-red-yellow-green and it wasn’t eye shadow. So here’s what came to mind for me as I relaxed on my flight home:
You see it. You know it’s there, like the “elephant in the room,” but you don’t seek the actual facts. Instead, you create the facts to fit your own reality, your own interpretation, your own story. And in your own story, where you are the star, you determine what’s factual and what’s happening. In other words, you assign meaning according to the Gospel of You.
Now, I don’t mean that in a bad way. It really did hit me how great an example it was of how we each tell our own stories and have our own realities. We just do – we ALL do. Are you familiar with don Miguel Ruiz, the author of The Four Agreements, The Voice of Knowledge, and several other books of Toltec wisdom? I love these books.
What I’ve learned from them is that what we think of ourselves and what we think of others are merely stories we tell ourselves. And when we tell these stories about us or about others, we mold and shape those stories so they fit into our perceptions. Whatever you do, I will frame that action within my perception of my story. And whatever I do, you will frame within your perception of your story. So, if I do that about you, and you do that about me, we’ve effectively cut off any real, true interaction, haven’t we?
That’s where these principles (only three of Ruiz’s five tenets) come into play for me:
- Don’t make assumptions (in other words, clarify and seek the truth),
- Don’t take anything personally (in other words, what others do to you and how they act toward you have everything to do with them and their story, not with you), and
- Be skeptical but learn to listen (you tell yourself stories, too. Be skeptical of others’ stories, but don’t forget to be skeptical of your own.).
To bring this around to my black eye, all of those attendees who talked with me or glanced at me and saw my eye really have no idea why it was black. They talked for a moment and then walked away with their own stories. Maybe they thought of abuse or a fight. Maybe they thought I smoked Tareyton cigarettes (if you don’t get that, click here). Maybe in their stories, I ran into the door or wrecked the car. The point is: “their reality; their stories.” They perceive according to the stories they’re starring in.
Then again, maybe they didn’t care. Maybe I just assumed they’d be curious, because that’s something I would be. That’s “my reality; my story.” And that’s really the crux of the matter, isn’t it? Because they didn’t ask, and because I didn’t say, there was no clarification on either side. There were simply assumptions. Interesting.
I encourage you to pick up Ruiz’s first volume, The Four Agreements. See if you don’t find some wisdom peppered throughout the pages. Then start paying attention to your stories. Once you grasp the concept and experience it in action, you’ll never think quite the same way again.